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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 1998

APEC - A Different Shade of Red

By Steve Hewitt
Video footage of RCMP officers pepper-spraying protesters last year at the University of British Columbia has become a regular item on nightly newscasts. What has been woefully lacking, however, is any broader analysis about what these images represent.

One important issue completely missed by the media involved something the RCMP did, not on the day of the conflict, but in the weeks leading up to it. This involved the infiltration of anti-APEC organizations and the creation of intelligence profiles of some leading protesters. It is truly a case of déjà vu. Campus intelligence work is part of the RCMP's 20th century identity, although one that has gone unrecognized in the force's 125th anniversary celebrations.

The real birthday of the modern force lies in 1920 when the Dominion Police amalgamated with the Royal North West Mounted Police to form the RCMP. From that point until 1984 when the federal government created the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP's duties included regular crime fighting and covert intelligence work. It was the intelligence work that created much of the controversy in the 1960s and brought the RCMP into conflict with CAUT.

In April 1961, intelligence work on university campuses became a public issue when a student at the Université Laval complained to a newspaper about a Mountie's attempt to recruit her as an informant. The matter eventually reached the House of Commons where it created considerable heat for the government of John Diefenbaker.

CAUT spent the next two-and-a-half years lobbying the federal government for some sort of policy to govern security work on campuses. Having failed to persuade the Diefenbaker government, it had greater success with Diefenbaker's successor, Lester Pearson. In November 1963 an agreement was reached between representatives of the government, CAUT, the National Federation of Canadian University Students, and the commissioner of the RCMP. This agreement, which was never formally ratified by parliament, led to the almost complete cessation of security intelligence activities on university campuses. Or so, relying on RCMP policy records, reported the McDonald Commission in its final report.

The reality, as revealed through RCMP records obtained under the Access to Information Act, was something completely different. RCMP intrusions on campuses escalated in the latter half of the 1960s as a mirror to the increasing student unrest. Not only was the 1963 agreement ignored by the force, but its members were allowed to both interpret its meaning and ensure their own compliance. The RCMP narrowly interpreted the agreement so that its only impact on campus operations was a continuation of a restriction started in 1961 when Minister of Justice Davie Fulton verbally forbade the RCMP from recruiting sources on campus. The only exception to this policy was that officers could accept "volunteer" information. By 1967 an official policy had been developed on how to recruit "volunteer" sources.

Other sources of information, including officers on campus as students, were used at some institutions. When necessary, the Mounties conducted surveillance operations on campus. Cumulatively, these various avenues provided the RCMP with a thorough idea of what was happening at universities. Included as a target of intelligence operations was their main critic in the 1960s, CAUT. Reports began in 1962 and continued until the early 1980s. In June 1968, headquarters instructed RCMP divisions to prepare intelligence assessments of CAUT's executive members, including their attitudes toward security investigations on campus.

The matter of RCMP investigations on campuses became a public issue again after the 1970 October Crisis. For a brief period the Trudeau government removed the "restrictions," although the move made no appreciable difference to RCMP work. A few months later, the government reinstated the Pearson agreement with one difference: Solicitor-General Jean-Pierre Goyer secretly rescinded Fulton's 1961 order. By then, however, campus protest had declined significantly, while the RCMP was becoming increasingly sophisticated in its approach to work on campus. In 1984 the issue appeared finished as CSIS took over such work from the Mounties. Then along came the APEC affair at UBC and a reminder that it is not always so easy to shed the past.

Steve Hewitt teaches history at the University of Saskatchewan and is working on a history of RCMP intelligence activities at Canadian universities.