Tommy Douglas spied on as he sought RCMP probe
Newly declassified records from the early 1960s show that even as Tommy Douglas called for a probe of RCMP spying, the Mounties were actively investigating the national NDP leader's political sympathies.
Douglas pointed in April 1963 to the case of a Regina woman who was regularly interrogated by the RCMP, noting the top Mountie had dismissed her story as fiction. He pushed for a special Commons committee to look into the matter.
"The tendency to label innocent people as Communists or bad security risks without any opportunity for them to be heard has gone far enough," he declared.
That very month, the newly disclosed pages show, RCMP intelligence officials were drafting secret memos casting suspicion on Douglas's own activities — including the politician's correspondence with the Communist Party of Canada in Saskatoon.
Just weeks earlier, a Mountie constable quietly investigating the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians in Vernon, B.C., cited Douglas' recent visit to the city, apparently drawing on details from an informant who drove the NDP leader to an event at a high school auditorium.
Library and Archives Canada, which now holds the Douglas file, fought for six years to keep the pages secret. They were disclosed to The Canadian Press after a federal judge ordered the archives to review the nine-volume intelligence dossier with an eye to releasing more.
The fragmentary pages help flesh out a key chapter of the RCMP security branch's long-standing interest in the trailblazing Prairie socialist.
One–fifth the Douglas file remains secret
However, many passages of the 1963 memos, though almost half a century old, were considered too sensitive to release.
Overall, 215 pages — about one-fifth of the Douglas file — are still completely secret while others have significant redactions. Portions of the earliest records in the file, from 1936, remain classified.
The federal government is appealing the August ruling of Federal Court Justice Simon Noel that the archives failed to live up to its obligations under the Access to Information Act.
The government argues that full disclosure of the Douglas file would endanger the country's ability to detect, prevent or suppress "subversive or hostile activities" and could betray secrets of the spy trade.
The material released to date shows Mountie spies watched the rousing orator for more than four decades, attending Douglas' speeches, taking careful note of his wide circle of contacts and eavesdropping on conversations.
In early 1964, an RCMP researcher looking into an uncorroborated story about Douglas' alleged involvement with Communists at the University of Chicago asked an inspector in a top secret memo whether the force should follow up "or do you think in view of Douglas' current prominence, it would be unwise or at least unpolitic for us to demonstrate our interest in him?"
A handwritten reply in the margin, likely from a superior, says the question should be revisited in six months, "by which time certain discussions with (redacted) may have taken place."
The RCMP sifted through numerous tidbits, reports and clippings about Douglas and seemed especially intrigued by his links to the peace movement and willingness to openly associate with those on the far left.
"It is interesting to note Tommy Douglas' casual attitude towards working with Communists both presently and in the past," says a heavily censored November 1965 memo filed by an RCMP corporal investigating the Communist Party of Canada's chapter in North Burnaby, B.C.
Douglas' daughter Shirley has said her father "was not a believer in Communism" but was open to meeting and speaking with people of all political stripes.
"He was never afraid to talk to anybody."