By ROBBIE MAHOOD
On Oct. 30, 2015, revelations of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spying on my father, Ed Mahood, almost 60 years ago, recently came to light courtesy of a phone call from an Ottawa journalist to my sister. A small group of journalists in Ottawa are reviewing the heavily edited RCMP intelligence reports from that era that are being released as the statute of limitations runs out on these hitherto secret files.
My father’s name crops up in connection with the campaign of extensive surveillance and disruption that Canada’s secret police waged against “communists” in the years after World War II. He is described as a “chronic troublemaker” who was one of an estimated 27,000 “communist subversives” in Canada.
His attendance at a supper organized for the Rev. James Endicott in Saskatoon in 1957, and in organizing meetings is mentioned. Endicott was indeed a member of the Communist Party (later expelled for his Maoist sympathies at the time of the Sino-Soviet split). My father was never a CP member, remaining in the much larger and more militant left wing of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and later in the New Democratic Party (NDP) until well into the sixties. But he did lend his name and organizing energies to CP activities from time to time.
In 1959, Ed applied for an overseas job with the United Nations, as was customary then among left social democrats with professional skills. The posting was to be to Sierra Leone. RCMP intelligence conspired with the then-Conservative MP for Saskatoon, Henry Jones, and the federal Conservative External Affairs Minister, Howard Green, to veto my father’s appointment. Although we were children then, my sister and I remember well that our father was turned down for the job—without realizing, at the time, the secret conspiracy of police and politicians that underlay the refusal.
Ed subsequently applied for a UN post in the Palestinian West Bank (then part of Jordan) which involved organizing teacher training for Palestinian refugees under the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) mandate. And he was accepted for this post in 1960. Why this second application was approved is unclear. Among UNWRA’s personnel were a large number of expatriate European social democrats. It is possible that then Tory Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, nixed a second attempt at sabotage. Diefenbaker was known for his renegade views on the terms of Canadian participation in NATO and NORAD, which eventually cost him the confidence of the Canadian bourgeoisie and his job.
The news that the RCMP spied on my father, and together with politicians conspired to deny him a job is not surprising. But it is disturbing nonetheless. A few points should be noted:
1) My father was lucky. Many others had their careers destroyed after being fingered by the RCMP, or the attempts to disrupt their lives were more serious. I am thinking of the RCMP campaign to disrupt the League for Socialist Action, and in particular police efforts to destroy the credibility of some its talented leadership such as the young John Riddell.
2) An extensive secret police apparatus, with licence to conduct immoral and illegal acts, is a permanent feature of capitalist states. Of course, the technical apparatus to conduct spying and wreak mayhem in the left is much more developed today, but it is no different in kind than in previous periods. My parents’ generation lived through the McCarthyite years in which my father, along with thousands of others were targeted. But heavy repression using spying and disruption was also directed at the labour and socialist movements after the First World War and during the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the RCMP directed its attention to a new generation of radicals.
3) The Quebec nationalist movement was to suffer disproportionate disruption and persecution as federalist ruling circles became obsessed with the threat of Quebec independence. The so-called FLQ Crisis of October 1970 gave Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau the opening to impose the War Measures Act—justified by the Big Lie of an “apprehended insurrection.” Four hundred and fifty pro-independence and socialist activists were arrested overnight and imprisoned. Those taken in pre-dawn raids were culled from RCMP intelligence lists. Later the RCMP engaged in theft and arson to disrupt the activities of the Parti Quebecois. A top PQ Cabinet Minister was revealed to be an RCMP “mole.”
4) So be forewarned. Obviously, we should not allow an atmosphere of paranoia and hyper-vigilance to impair the functioning of socialist organizations. But we need to be aware of the interest and capacity of the capitalist state to spy on, and if possible disrupt the life of left-wing militants and their organizations. When these secret state operations come to light, and when we face repressive legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Law C-51, we should challenge them openly through a vigorous defence of our hard-won political rights and civil liberties.
Photo: A drone used for surveillance by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta. Jenna McMurray / Calgary Sun