Ottawa brushes off motion to release secret Tommy Douglas files

REGINA — The federal government is brushing off pressure from Saskatchewan to release old RCMP intelligence files on Tommy Douglas.

REGINA — The federal government is brushing off pressure from Saskatchewan to release old RCMP intelligence files on Tommy Douglas.

The Saskatchewan legislature sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in May after unanimously passing a motion that called for the release of documents on Douglas, who is widely credited as the father of Canada’s public health-care system.

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a letter sent recently to the Saskatchewan NDP that Ottawa will not disclose any more documents than have already been released.

“Some information was not disclosed due to national security concerns, such as information that could lead to the identification of security intelligence employees or human sources,” wrote Toews.

“This is a legal requirement, and also what those individuals and their families would expect. The decision to withhold certain information from disclosure was reviewed and upheld by the Information Commissioner of Canada.”

Toews added that the case is still before the courts and said “making further comment on my part would not be proper.”

The now-defunct RCMP security service shadowed the former Saskatchewan premier and federal NDP leader for three decades, attending his speeches and eavesdropping on conversations. His links to the peace movement and members of the Communist Party were of particular interest.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is blocking release of large parts of the dossier, citing national security. The service filed an affidavit in Federal Court earlier this year arguing disclosure could endanger informants and jeopardize the spy agency’s ability to conduct secret surveillance.

The battle over the Douglas intelligence file began in November 2005, when The Canadian Press made an Access to Information request for the RCMP dossier.

Some material in the file was eventually released, but the government refused to disclose a large portion and that decision was upheld by Canada’s information commissioner.

The Saskatchewan government and the Opposition NDP, which had introduced the motion, both expressed some disappointment at Ottawa’s decision but said they weren’t surprised.

“Based on what the federal government had initially said, that there were security reasons that CSIS said they could not release it, I guess I’m not completely surprised that they would maintain that status,” said Government House Leader Dan D’Autremont.

“But I think the people of Saskatchewan would have appreciated seeing the file and what was in it.”

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter suggested the letter from Toews was a let down, but he wasn’t giving up hope that people will eventually know the full story about Douglas.

“I was disappointed in the fact that the Harper government, I don’t think is paying enough attention to the unanimous motion that was passed by the Saskatchewan legislature and obviously supported by the people of the province,” said Lingenfelter.

“But I’m not assuming that it’s rejected in the sense that it’s rejected forever. I just think that what he’s saying, at least what I read into the letter, is that basically it’s before the courts so he can’t do anything at this moment in time.”