A nearly decade-long battle over Tommy Douglas’ intelligence files is now being taken to the Supreme Court. The files, from the old RCMP Security Service, detail surveillance on the socialist leader from the 1930s into the 80s. Jim Bronskill, a reporter, first requested them in 2005, but received only 400 heavily-censored pages from over a thousand. He’s arguing that Libraries and Archives Canada has a duty to preserve and share important historical documents. CSIS, which replaced the Security Service, is arguing that “national security” is at stake and the files risk revealing “secrets of the spy trade”.

National Security? Really? Are they actually worried about spy “secrets” which pre-date WW2, from an intelligence agency which no longer exists? What’s in these files that wouldn’t be in warehouses of much-younger declassified Cold War/WWII texts, many of which are years or decades younger?

Bronskill has already taken this to the Federal Court, where he won, then the Federal Court of Appeals, where he lost. In the interim, a few hundred more pages have been released. They show decades of infiltration and eavesdropping which focused on everything from his support of the American Civil Rights movement to his opposition to Apartheid in South Africa. Tommy Douglas was hardly the only NDP/CCF politician to see this kind of scrutiny, either. Even Bob Rae, now Federal Liberal leader, was followed for decades. One has to wonder what our country would look like if they paid this much attention to mobbed-up construction companies and their political allies…

I hate to break it to CSIS, but “exposing the secrets of the spy trade” has been the basis for decades of best-selling books. Everyone from James Bond to Jason Bourne trace their tales back to places like “Camp X” near Oshawa, Ontario. There’s books, movies, documentaries, museums – hell, I’ve sat in the officer’s lounge of the old East German Stasi headquarters drinking a beer and watching a video tour hosted by Roger Moore. The Cold War is really, really, really over, and many of these files were written before it begun. We’re living in an age, now, where intelligence databases and infiltration/entrapment manuals are routinely leaked online – what relevance to 80-year-old surveillance techniques really have in this context?

Why is the Canadian government so afraid of seeing these files released? That should be obvious. Tommy Douglas was one the most celebrated politicians in Canadian history, yet he spent nearly all of his career under surveillance. The very existence of these files shatters the illusion of a politically neutral state. Agencies like the RCMP have their own agendas which they’re more than willing to pursue at the expense of democracy. Under their watch, even the most moderate of leftist beliefs are enough to label someone an “enemy” or “criminal”.

If they can do this to Tommy Douglas, they can do it to any one of us. If the man who brought us our legendary “Canadian-style health care” was a “subversive”, what does that say about Canada? And if accessible health care, decent wages and human rights are “dangerous” ideas, then what priorities are driving our state?

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