Monday, December 18, 2006

Was the Greatest Canadian, the Greatest Suspect?

"Setting people to spy on one another is not the way to protect freedom," Tommy Douglas, NDP leader.

Yikes, try and knock down the bad karma on this news item. The RCMP currently in the news for a number of internal troubles, now faces the scrutiny of the nation over its past activities through the last century. The Mounties find themselves in the rather uncomfortable position of having the news come out about a rather large file put together on the life of one man that many Canadians consider to be as near a saint as politics can provide.

While Canadians celebrated the life and times (hmm, is that term a copyright of the CBC perhaps??) of Tommy Douglas, going so far as to name him our Greatest Canadian back in 2004, it seems an even more thorough examination of his life had been taking place at RCMP headquarters for over thirty years.

Files released over the weekend show that the RCMP compiled a nine volume, 1,142 page dossier on the Saskatchewan socialist, who governed that province in the 1940’s as the first socialist premier of North America, bringing such radical things as public auto insurance, health care and a bill of rights to the province. He then moved on to federal politics, became leader of the CCF/NDP and is generally considered the father of the Medicare system in Canada.

The Mounties first became attracted to Douglas in the late thirties and kept an active file on him up until the early seventies, apparently concerned over his contacts in the leftist world, his frequent appearances at anti war events and his opposition to nuclear weapons and his criticism of the UN’s policy of prosecuting the Korean War of the day.

The first report filed on Douglas was made in 1939 by a young constable who eavesdropped on a conversation between Douglas and labourers in Ottawa, where Douglas urged them to push for legislation to help out those workers currently unemployed.

As the 1970’s drew to a close the Douglas file was still considered an open account, with snippets of information being added to it on an ongoing basis.

In between, Douglas seemed to be a popular subject among the other 800,000 Canadians that found files kept on their activities with church groups, labour organizations, media outlets, educational institutions and women’s groups to name a few. Included in that, were 650 VIP’s, politicians and bureaucrats who were vetted for possible unusual activities, at least unusual in the eyes of those conducting the investigation.

The RCMP turned over the job of investigation to CSIS in the eighties, no doubt relieved to be washing their hands of what had become quite a scandal plagued part of their mandate.

The Douglas papers were released by the Canadian Library and Archives under an access to information request by the Canadian Press, though many of them are still considered secret and not available for viewing or research. Still 1,142 pages seems like an awful lot of attention for a Baptist preacher who simply entered politics because of his concern over the unemployed from the Great Depression.

Somehow you get the feeling that perhaps greater attention could have been given to greater threats of the day. It would seem that they spent far too much time following the wrong suspect for far too long.

(photo from Canadian Press Photo Archive, found at the Hamilton Spectator site)

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