Canada

Former Manitoba AG on secret internment list

A former provincial attorney general was among thousands of Communists and sympathizers from across Canada slated to be watched and even detained at internment camps under a Cold War-era plan, a joint CBC/Radio-Canada investigation found.
Former provincial attorney general, Roland Penner, was among thousands of Communists and sympathizers from across Canada slated to be watched and even detained at internment camps under a Cold War-era plan, a joint CBC/Radio-Canada investigation found. ((CBC))

A former provincial attorney general was among thousands of Communists and sympathizers from across Canada slated to be watched and even detained at internment camps under a Cold War-era plan, a joint CBC/Radio-Canada investigation found.

Roland Penner, who served in cabinet under Manitoba's NDP government throughout the 1980s, was monitored by the government program PROFUNC over the span of two decades starting in the 1950s. It's unclear whether they continued to monitor him after he was elected to office in 1981.

Roland Penner, who served in cabinet under Manitoba's NDP government throughout the 1980s, was monitored by the government program PROFUNC. ((Manitoba Historical Society))

"I've reason to believe … that it continued even when I was attorney general. Now, when it stopped, I don't know," Roland told The Fifth Estate.

He has obtained the thick security file the RCMP compiled on him, but most of it is redacted. Though he knows his Communist ties prompted police surveillance, he had no idea about the government's secret internment plan.

The CBC's The Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada's Enquete investigative programs unearthed troubling details about the three-decades-long secret government contingency plan dubbed PROFUNC, which stands for PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party.

At the plan's outset in 1950, about 16,000 suspected Communists and 50,000 sympathizers were listed as PROFUNC targets to be monitored and possibly interned in the event of a national security threat.

PROFUNC plan

The PROFUNC plan changed over the years, but here's a glimpse of what it looked like in its early years. The following information is from a 1951 document detailing reception centres and internment camps to be set up across the country.

Reception areas:

Halifax: Canadian Immigration Detention Headquarters

Montreal:Department of Labour Hostel

Toronto: Casa Loma

Winnipeg: Normal School

Port Arthur, Ont.: Port Arthur Country Club

Regina: Grandstand Exhibition Grounds

Edmonton: Canadian Immigration Quarters

Calgary: Northern Electric Building

Vancouver: Canadian Immigration Building

Internment camps:

Kelowna, B.C.: A female-only facility housing 400 B.C. and Prairie internees.

Chilliwack, B.C.: A male-only camp for 400 British Columbians.

Lethbridge, Alta.: A facility accommodating 400 male internees from the three Prairie provinces.

Neys, Ont.: A camp for 400 men from Ontario.

North Bay, Ont.: A male-only facility for 400 Ontarians.

Niagara Peninsula (St. Thomas or London area), Ont.: A facility for 400 women from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

St. Gabriel de Brandon, Que.: 400 men from Quebec and Maritimes.

Parry Sound, Ont.: A co-ed camp, numbers not specified.

Penner's inclusion on the list is perhaps not surprising. He followed in the footsteps of his parents, becoming a leading communist in the province. He ran for federal election under a communist  banner in the early 1950s but later joined the New Democrats.

His father, Jacob Penner, had a hand in founding the Communist Party of Canada. Both of Penner's parents were also on the PROFUNC list.

Under the PROFUNC plan, sealed envelopes were placed in RCMP detachments across the country containing names and details about potential internees.

Arrest document

A separate arrest document, known formally as a C-215 form, was written up for each potential internee. Each form detailed the person's name, age, physical description, photos of the person, information on their vehicles and homes, including location of doors to be used in potential escapes. The lists of targets included their children.

Over the decades, the documents in the envelopes were regularly reviewed and updated.

In the advent of a national security crisis, RCMP detachments across the country would begin a massive roundup they referred to as M-Day, or Mobilization Day. Police commanders were secretly briefed on preparations for the day.

Special uniformed teams were to be deployed in residential neighbourhoods, taking up tactical positions and rounding up the targets. Those arrested would then be transported to temporary "reception centres."

Early lists suggested reception centres be set up in locations across the country, including Toronto's historic Casa Loma, a country club in Port Arthur, Ont., and Grandstand Exhibition Grounds in Regina.

Internees would later be transferred to more formal detention facilities such as penitentiaries.

Men would be kept at camps across the country, women would be sent to one of two facilities in the Niagara Peninsula or Kelowna, B.C. Children would either be sent to relatives or interned with parents.

An 11-page document outlines the harsh rules for internees at the camps. Internees could be held indefinitely and shot if caught trying to escape. 

Harsh punishment

Internees also faced harsh punishment if they broke the strict rules of the camps, such as the following: "No internee shall converse with any person, other than an officer guard or staff member, unless he is permitted to do so under these regulations or is given special permission to do so by an officer."

Fifth Estate

Learn more about the documentary Enemies of the State, which probes into the secret plan to detain thousands of Canadians.

The PROFUNC files were regularly updated until the program's demise in 1983, prompted by administrative changes introduced by Robert Kaplan, Canada's solicitor general at the time.

The former Toronto Liberal MP said he knew nothing of the plan’s existence during his time as minister in the early 1980s. Kaplan says he learned of the program — and his inadvertent role in shutting it down — from the CBC.

He unwittingly ended the program when he ordered the RCMP to discontinue whatever was causing a number of superannuated Communists to encounter problems entering the United States. Irate constituents had alerted him to the problem.

Kaplan said he was appalled to hear that the Canadian government had been involved in such a plan: "I just can’t believe it had any government authorization behind it."

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