Rethink secrecy over Tommy Douglas files, Ottawa told
The Federal Court has ordered the government to reconsider its decision to withhold parts of a secret RCMP dossier on socialist trailblazer Tommy Douglas.
Federal Court Justice Simon Noel has given Library and Archives Canada 90 days to consider what additional information it ought to release in response to a request by The Canadian Press.
Noel said the archives did not live up to its obligations under the Access to Information Act when journalist Jim Bronskill requested files on Douglas six years ago.
"It is disappointing that the act's intent and the (archives') mandate have not been given their true scope, notably as this file concerns an influential and prominent Canadian, Mr. Thomas Clement Douglas," Noel concluded in a 90-page ruling issued Thursday.
Noel raised doubts about the government's argument to block the release of the documents — that it would compromise national security and encumber the work of Canada's spy agency.
"It is clear that this decision should in no way be interpreted as downplaying concerns about the identification of human sources or important national security concerns such as current operational interests," the ruling states.
"Rather, this case addresses how the passage of time can assuage national security concerns. Furthermore, this case highlights the importance of transferring information to the public domain for the benefit of present and future Canadians as well as our collective knowledge and memory as a country."
Released files heavily censored
The federal government has refused to fully disclose the file on the former Saskatchewan premier and one-time federal NDP leader, who is widely seen as the father of Canada's public health care system.
The archives, which holds the 1,142-page file, initially released about 400 heavily censored pages in response to a request by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Bronskill went to court to force greater disclosure after the federal information commissioner agreed with the government that most of the dossier should be kept under wraps.
The government partially lifted the shroud of secrecy before a February court hearing by releasing hundreds of additional pages, although they too were heavily edited.
The material released to date shows the RCMP Security Service shadowed Douglas for decades, attending his speeches, analysing his writings and eavesdropping on private conversations.
The Mounties, who were responsible for domestic security until Canadian Security Intelligence Service was created in 1984, tracked Douglas from the late 1930s to shortly before his death in 1986.
His links to the peace movement and Communist party members were of particular interest.
The government maintained that full disclosure of the Douglas file would jeopardize the country's ability to detect, prevent or suppress "subversive or hostile activities" and could give away secrets of the spy trade.
Douglas's daughter, the actress Shirley Douglas, supported Bronskill's court challenge.
"It is clear that both history and Canadians from coast to coast have much to learn about Mr. Douglas and this application can be seen as contributing in this respect," Noel wrote.
"It can also be said that access to information, whether the subject of the request is well-known or not, benefits all Canadians."