Secret internment plan included Toronto landmark

Canada's secret Cold War-era plan to detain thousands of suspected Communists and sympathizers if war broke out would have used the tourist attraction as a holding area.

When James Laxer was growing up in Toronto, he suspected his family was under constant surveillance.

But he had no idea that the Canadian government had a Cold War-era plan in place that — if a national security crisis struck — would have seen him, his mother, father, sister and brother arrested and detained.

And that under the plan his family would have been herded on to a bus and shuttled several blocks from their home to Casa Loma, the historic castle where they would be kept until a permanent internment camp was ready. 

"This shocks the hell out of me," the York University political science professor said when CBC told him of the plan.

The tourist landmark was among a number of buildings across Canada designated to temporarily hold internees under early versions of the secret contingency plan to arrest and detain Communists and sympathizers in the event of a security crisis.

Details of the plan — believed to be one of the most draconian peace-time national security programs in Canadian history —  were unearthed in a joint investigation by CBC's The Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada's Enquête investigative program.

The plan was dubbed PROFUNC, which stands for its intended targets, PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party plan.

When the program was devised in 1950, it proposed the RCMP spy on or even detain about 16,000 Communists and 50,000 sympathizers.

Documents from 1953 show in Ontario alone, there was a list of more than 2,000 men and women approved or awaiting approval for internment .

Lists of targeted subversives were regularly updated over the plan's decades-long life. When Laxer was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, his father, Robert Mendel Laxer, was a vocal communist and full-time organizer for the Labour Progressive Political Party.

As a child, Laxer recalled, he felt acutely aware of hatred toward the Communist Party.

"I felt deeply threatened. I felt that the world I lived in was a very insecure world. The message was — I got this by the time I was three or four was — … that the police were bad, the police were our enemy, the police were out there to do us harm," said Laxer, 68.

All those emotions resurfaced when he learned of the PROFUNC plan, Laxer said.

"When you say it to me, I feel a kind of anxiety that brings back the anxiety that I felt as a kid," he said.

Laxer has decided to ask the RCMP, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Canada's National Archives for access to files collected during years of spying on his family. However, it could be years until he receives them.