Battle over Douglas files heads to court

OTTAWA — History will face off against national security this week in a court battle over decades-old intelligence files on socialist icon Tommy Douglas.

OTTAWA — History will face off against national security this week in a court battle over decades-old intelligence files on socialist icon Tommy Douglas.

The case pits the right of Canadians to see historically significant information against the government’s determination to protect the secrets of the spy trade. Arguments are to be heard Wednesday in Federal Court.

The Canadian Press is challenging the federal government’s refusal to fully disclose a 1,142-page dossier on Douglas, a former Saskatchewan premier and federal NDP leader who is widely hailed as the father of medicare. The file was amassed by the RCMP from the late 1930s until shortly before Douglas’s death in 1986.

Paul Champ, lawyer for The Canadian Press, said the case is about more than gaining access to historical material on Douglas.

“The greater precedential impact of this case relates to when and how Canadians can access important historical documents and to what extent can our security intelligence branches try to sit on information indefinitely.”

The battle dates back to 2005, when reporter Jim Bronskill of The Canadian Press requested the Douglas file under the Access to Information Act.

Library and Archives Canada, which is in possession of the Douglas dossier, initially released over 400 pages, some of them heavily censored. The agency maintained fuller disclosure would jeopardize the country’s ability to detect, prevent or suppress “subversive or hostile activities.”

It was acting on the advice of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Bronskill launched a court challenge in 2009 after the federal information commissioner agreed with the government that most of the dossier should be kept under wraps.

In a closed-door hearing late last year, Judge Simon Noel expressed concern that Library and Archives had not paid sufficient attention to its mandate as the keeper of the country’s history. In response, the agency released portions of more than 300 additional pages from the Douglas file last week.

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