Repression of the Canadian left

By Yves Engler

In Argentina they threw leftists out of airplanes while in Chile thousands were detained in stadiums, some tortured and some killed. In Brazil and Uruguay the story was similar. When threatened by progressive forces, the elite in many countries resorted to illegal acts and certainly never felt constrained by constitutional rights.

How about Canada?

For more than three decades the RCMP ran PROFUNC (PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party), a highly secretive espionage operation and internment plan. In October CBC’s Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada’s Enquête aired shows on “this secret contingency plan, called PROFUNC, [which] allowed police to round up and indefinitely detain Canadians believed to be Communist sympathizers.”

In case of a “national security” threat up to 16,000 suspected communists and 50,000 sympathizers were to be apprehended and interned in one of eight camps across the country. Initiated by RCMP Commissioner Stuart Taylor Wood in 1950, the plan continued until 1983.

The plan was highly detailed. Police stations across the country would receive a signal to open their PROFUNC lists and apprehend said individuals. The “communists” would then be taken to “reception centres” where they would be restricted from talking and anyone attempting to flee would be shot. Eventually, the “communists” would be moved to one of the regional internment camps where their contact with the outside world would be limited to a single 1-page letter each week. Their children would be sent to live with other family members.

Thousands of officers collected information for PROFUNC at one time or another. Each potential internee had an arrest document (C-215 form) that was regularly updated with the person’s physical description, age, photos, vehicle information, housing and sometimes the location of doors they might use to escape arrest.

Only a small number of the names on the list are public, but it clearly didn’t take much to be put on it. Enquête uncovered the name of a 13-year girl who was on the list because she attended an anti-nuclear protest in 1964. Many prominent individuals were also on the PROFUNC list, including a former Manitoba cabinet minister, Roland Penner, CBC President Robert Rabinovitch, and NDP leader Tommy Douglas (who was voted greatest Canadian in a CBC poll).

Enquête focused on the presumed use of PROFUNC lists during the 1970 October Crisis when Pierre Trudeau’s government implemented the War Measures Act. The head of the Montreal police’s anti-terrorism squad when the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped two government officials, Julien Giguère, told Enquête that his department had a list of 60 suspected FLQ sympathizers that they wanted to investigate. But the federal government wanted to justify their suspension of civil liberties and their claim of an “apprehended insurrection” so the RCMP and Sureté du Québec added many names to the Montreal police list. These added names appear to have come from PROFUNC lists. In subsequent days police agencies carried out almost 4,000 raids and made 500 arrests. Many of those detained were held without charge for weeks or months.

Robert Kaplan, Solicitor General from 1980 to 1984, ended PROFUNC when he ordered the RCMP to stop whatever they were doing that blocked elderly Canadians from entering the US. Kaplan claims the Fifth Estate informed him of the program.

PROFUNC was disbanded at about the same time as the Trudeau government opened the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP (or Macdonald Commission), which investigated the RCMP’s “theft of the membership list of the Parti Québécois, several break-ins; illegal opening of mail; burning a barn in Quebec where the Black Panther Party and Front de libération du Québec were rumoured to be planning a rendezvous; forging documents; and conducting illegal electronic surveillance.”

As a result of the Macdonald Commission, Ottawa reduced the RCMP’s role in security and intelligence gathering. In 1984 they created the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to carry out security and intelligence gathering work that had previously been the RCMP’s responsibility.

CSIS may not continue all of the functions of PROFUNC, but they definitely still monitor individuals based upon their political beliefs. The focus may no longer be solely on leftists. Politicized Muslims are definitely also on the list.

In recent years CSIS has been involved in the mistreatment of a number of innocent individuals. In 2003 the intelligence agency prodded Sudan to detain Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-born Canadian citizen, who was then tortured and put through a harrowing six-year ordeal. CSIS is also largely responsible for the incarceration of more than a dozen Muslims on security certificates. These individuals (who are permanent residents, refugees or foreign nationals living in Canada) have been incarcerated without being able to see the evidence CSIS has put forward against them.

Of course, CSIS doesn’t only target Muslims. From last October to May 2010 at least seven friends of Stefan Christoff, one of Montreal’s most effective grassroots activists, were visited by CSIS agents. They arrived unannounced early in the morning and asked detailed and sometimes menacing questions about Christoff.

CSIS has also been actively spying on Aboriginal protesters. In the lead up to G8/G20 protests in Toronto CSIS was accused of trying to intimidate members of Red Power United.

Before, during and after the recent G8/G20 protests in Toronto Canada’s various security services demonstrated a flagrant disregard for individual’s civil liberties. Usually held in miserable conditions for 48 or 72 hours, about 1,100 people were picked up in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The vast majority of those arrested had their charges dropped because there was not a shred of evidence against them.

To protect against a plan such as PROFUNC or G8/G20 type police repression the Left needs to build a vibrant movement that doesn’t self marginalize. One way the Left can protect itself against security service attacks is to be known by as large of a segment of society as possible. We need to be seen as part of “normal” society.

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