TORONTO — The family of Canadian icon Tommy Douglas is urging the government to make RCMP intelligence on the socialist firebrand and father of medicare, while an expert calls it ludicrous to claim any national security grounds to keep them secret.
Actress Shirley Douglas says she and her family believe the decades-old RCMP Security Service files should be turned over to a journalist who requested them four years ago.
It’s something her dad would have wanted, Douglas states in an affidavit filed in Federal Court.
“We believe that full disclosure would be salutary to informed scholarship and therefore public knowledge about the life and times of our father,” Douglas says.
The document battle began in November 2005, when Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill requested the RCMP dossier on the fabled Prairie politician under access to information laws.
A year later, Library and Archives Canada handed over some of the material, which showed RCMP spies had shadowed Douglas.
The records state agents attended his speeches, analyzed his writings, and even eavesdropped on a private conversation due to his links to left-wing causes, the peace movement and Communist Party members.
However, the government refused to release parts of the file, essentially claiming national security concerns.
The decision was upheld by the information commissioner in August, prompting Bronskill to take the minister of Canadian Heritage to Federal Court in hopes of forcing disclosure.
In his affidavit, intelligence expert Wesley Wark notes some of the records are more than 40 years old and that the RCMP Security Service has long been disbanded amid concerns it was incompetent at identifying threats.
“The notion that once sensitive security and intelligence records remain sensitive for eternity is a patent absurdity,” Wark said.
“The absence of a plausible rationale for the excessive exemptions applied to the Douglas file raise concerns that the primary motive for their application was . . . to prevent more revelations of an embarrassing nature about the well-documented inability of Canada’s security institutions of the day to properly understand the phenomenon of subversion.”
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Heritage minister said Wednesday there would be no comment because the case is before the courts.
Douglas, a Baptist minister who died in February 1986 at age 81, was voted the greatest Canadian of all time in a popular CBC contest a few years ago.
His daughter, Shirley Douglas, married fellow actor Donald Sutherland and their son, Kiefer Sutherland, stars in the hit television series “24.”
The file on the former leader of the New Democratic Party was one of about 650 secret dossiers the RCMP kept on Canadian politicians and bureaucrats as part of the “VIP program.”
Some, like the Douglas file, were retained by Library and Archives for their historical significance, a point noted in a supporting affidavit by history professor, Craig Heron.
“When historians are deprived of records about the past, the ill effects extend beyond the historical profession,” Heron says.
“Canadians themselves are made culturally and intellectually poorer.”