Forty years after Canada’s Watergate

Forty years after Canada’s Watergate

by Christian Gagnon, Vice-President of the Ligue d’action nationale, Le Devoir, January 9, 2012

Throughout the last year the Canadian government seemed to have an irrepressible passion for commemorations. They sang praises to Queen Elizabeth II on the 60th anniversary of her coronation, although the Québécois have suffered much from the effects of the British monarchy during their history. The 200th anniversary of the war of 1812, an episode that is considered insignificant by most historians, they glorified to excess. They are even preparing to mark, in 2014, the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, and, in 2015, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and grave-digger of the Francophones in Western Canada. But what, then, is Ottawa setting aside for us for 2013?

An initial possibility — it seems to me today — is that the federal government could this year serve up another propaganda concert demonstrating the priceless benefits of our membership in the “bestest country in the world.”[1] However, it is unlikely that Ottawa will seize this opportunity. It was 40 years ago to this day that Operation Ham was successfully carried out: the theft by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of the membership list of the Parti québécois, still a quite new party. No fewer than 44 officers of Section G (the RCMP anti-separatism squad) prepared this operation, an illegal one but authorized by the highest political authorities. On January 9, 1973, just after midnight, three officers broke into the premises of Messageries dynamiques, then located at 9820 rue Jeanne-Mance in Montréal. After a lengthy search, they tracked down the computer tapes containing the list of members of the Parti québécois, the objective of their mission.

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The reels were then taken by car to MICR Systems, a data processing company in the Westmount Square building. Computer experts spent more than three hours decoding the tapes and copying the PQ’s membership list. An RCMP officer then returned to Messageries dynamiques to put the reels back in place. The RCMP team left the premises at 5:15 a.m. “Compared with that, Watergate was really an amateur job,” wrote reporter Richard Cléroux, author of Pleins feux sur les services secrets canadiens (Éditions de l’Homme, 1993).[2]

The Keable and McDonald commissions of inquiry would inform us later that for several years after the October Crisis of 1970, the RCMP in Quebec committed bomb attacks, arson, kidnappings, and dynamite thefts and issued fake FLQ communiqués in order to artificially maintain an atmosphere of fear and insecurity harmful to the independence movement.

And this year, 2013, with a PQ government in office, it is the son of the prime minister who gave the RCMP carte blanche to commit these crimes who is the favourite in the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Which just shows that democracies like the ones Gérard Depardieu likes[3] are favoured by many Canadians.

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[1] An allusion to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s effusive (albeit in faulty French) praise of Canada as “le plus meilleur pays au monde.”

[2] First published in English as Official Secrets: The Story Behind the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1990).

[3] The French actor, now a Russian citizen in order to escape the Socialist government’s wealth tax on high incomes, has praised Putin’s repressive regime for its supposed “democracy.”

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