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The RCMP's file on Tommy Douglas, shown after re-election in November, 1965, contains articles noting Douglas's concern about rumours of RCMP surveillance of Canadians. ((Canadian Press))

RCMP spies shadowed Prairie politician Tommy Douglas for more than three decades, according to documents obtained by the Canadian Press.

A newly declassified file on Douglas shows the Mounties attended his speeches, dissected his published articles and, during one Parliament Hill demonstration, eavesdropped on a private conversation.

Douglas, a trailblazing socialist committed to social reform, drew the interest of RCMP security officers through his longstanding links with left-wing causes, the burgeoning peace movement and assorted Communist party members.

In the late 1970s, as the veteran politician neared retirement, the Mounties recommended keeping his file open based on the notion "there is much we do not know about Douglas."

The 1,142-page dossier, spanning nine volumes, was obtained by the Canadian Press from Library and Archives Canada under the Access to Information Act.

Personal files compiled by the RCMP's security and intelligence branch can be released through the access law 20 years after a subject's death. Douglas died of cancer at age 81 in February 1986.

Widely hailed as the father of medicare for championing universal health services, the influential Saskatchewan politician was voted the greatest Canadian of all time in a popular CBC contest two years ago.

Daughter Shirley married fellow actor Donald Sutherland. Their son, Kiefer Sutherland, stars in the hit television series 24.

A Baptist minister, Douglas entered politics upon seeing the toll the Great Depression took on families.

Attracted attention in 1939

It appears he first attracted the RCMP's attention in February 1939 when, as a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation MP, Douglas urged a group of labourers in downtown Ottawa to push for legislation beneficial to the unemployed.

An RCMP constable quietly attended the session, filing a secret two-page account to superiors.

A few years later, Douglas became leader of Saskatchewan's Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, soon heading up the first socialist government in North America.

As premier, he ushered in public auto insurance, guaranteed hospital care and a provincial bill of rights.

'Setting people to spy on one another is not the way to protect freedom.' — Tommy Douglas

The RCMP file reflects Douglas's interest in anti-war causes, including opposition to nuclear weapons and criticism ofUN policy on Korea.

There are also occasional references to allegations that the CCF harboured members with Communist ties.

Douglas was chosen leader of the federal New Democratic Party in 1961 and served for 10 years. The rise to national prominence only fuelled interest in his political associations.

In late 1964, the RCMP received a letter alleging that Douglas had once been an active member of the Communist party at the University of Chicago, where he had done postgraduate studies.

A top secret memo from a senior RCMP security officer to the force's deputy commissioner of operations indicates there was no reliable information to substantiate the tip.

"We have never asked the FBI for information on the matter because of Douglas' position as leader of a national political party."

During a March 1965 rally on Parliament Hill, an RCMP constable "observed a meeting" between Douglas and missionary peace activist James Endicott.

A report notes that Endicott, after congratulating Douglas on his speech, mentioned he had recently been to Saigon, where war would soon boil over.

Douglas asked: "How are things down there?"

Endicott replied: "Terrible, just terrible."

The secret report records their plans to have lunch the next week, duly noting later that no "information could be obtained" as to whether the meal took place.

Comments about Pearson

In May 1965, a confidential source provided information for an account of Douglas's appearance at a Communist party meeting in Burnaby, B.C.

The NDP leader took aim at Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson for not opposing U.S. actions in southeast Asia.

"Douglas states that Australia has already 'been taken in' and is sending troops to Vietnam," the memo reads. "He stated that he [Douglas] will fight with every drop of blood in his body against the Vietnam affair."

The file contains articles noting Douglas's concern about rumours of RCMP surveillance of Canadians, though there is no indication the politician suspected he was being watched.

"Setting people to spy on one another is not the way to protect freedom," he wrote while NDP leader.

RCMP security and intelligence officers amassed files on 800,000 Canadians and actively monitored thousands of organizations, from church and women's groups to media outlets and universities.

More than 650 secret dossiers in 'VIP program'

Markings indicate Douglas's file is one of more than 650 secret dossiers the RCMP kept on Canadian politicians and bureaucrats as part of a project known as the "VIP program."

While many of these files were destroyed, some with historical significance have been retained by the Library and Archives.

Portions of several documents in Douglas's file were withheld from release because they concern international security matters still deemed sensitive— or personal information, such as confidential sources or the names of others who came under RCMP scrutiny.

Hundreds of pages, though decades old, remain completely sealed.

Douglas stepped down as NDP leader in 1971, remaining in Parliament as a backbench MP for eight years.

One of the later file entries notes Douglas's participation in a demonstration outside the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa in support of Jewish prisoners of conscience.

In 1984, the newly formed Canadian Security Intelligence Service assumed most of the scandal-plagued RCMP's security duties.

In fact, a notation indicates that Justice David McDonald reviewed Douglas's file in September 1978 as part of a commission of inquiry into the RCMP's activities.

A Mountie assessment from the late 1970s says it was difficult to determine the influence Douglas's various leftist associates had over him.

"It is felt, however, there is much we do not know about Douglas and the file should be maintained in order to correlate any additional information that surfaces which might assist in piecing this jigsaw puzzle together."