An anniversary that Ottawa would prefer not to celebrate
An op-ed article in the January 9 edition of the Montréal daily Le Devoir reminds readers of a federal police action 40 years ago to the day that was part of a larger campaign of illegal police activity directed against the Quebec independence movement during the 1970s.
My free translation of Christian Gagnon’s piece, below, is followed by reproduction of an article I wrote in 1978 (!) as an introduction to a book on police “security” operations directed against the Canadian left, the labour movement and Quebec nationalists as well as other opponents of the federal government and state, real and imagined, during those years. RCMP: The Real Subversives (Vanguard Publications, 1978) included the text of a brief submitted to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP (the McDonald Commission) by the Revolutionary Workers League/Ligue ouvrière révolutionnaire, a group to which I then belonged, as well as a number of articles documenting incidents of police harassment of political dissidents.
My 1978 article offers an overview of the political context of these events and the public controversy that arose in the wake of revelations of the scope of these illegal police activities at the time. The argument may appear a bit overwrought in places, as in the unilateral reduction of the “rule of law” to little more than laws and institutions defending capitalist property rights. A more subtle analysis might point to the state as not just an institution of class rule but a terrain of class and national struggle, in which non-capitalist forces can sometimes through their struggles win legislative and even legal reforms that can strengthen their cause. Where they manage to achieve governmental power, these forces are then much more favourably placed to challenge and ultimately dismantle the institutions of capitalist class rule.
However, the article is, I think, a useful reminder and analysis of some of the key measures adopted by Canada’s rulers in the early years of what later became known as the neoliberal assault on working people.
In the wake of the McDonald Commission report, the Security Service was removed from the RCMP and its functions turned over to a new agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. As the treatment of security certificate detainees and other victims of today’s “war on terror” demonstrates, the CSIS continues many of the practices pioneered by the RCMP Security Service. No doubt the young aboriginal activists of the inspiring Idle No More movement are among their contemporary targets.
– Richard Fidler
- Christian Gagnon’s Forty years after Canada’s Watergate
- Richard Fidler’s Canada’s Political Police at Work