Being a 'public enemy' might be funny-if it weren’t so damned contemptuous

Martin Loney February 21 1977

Being a 'public enemy' might be funny-if it weren’t so damned contemptuous

Martin Loney February 21 1977

Being a 'public enemy' might be funny-if it weren’t so damned contemptuous

Column by Martin Loney

To be accused of being the head of a revolutionary organization is a serious charge in itself. But for Jean-Pierre Goyer to say in a letter to his cabinet colleagues that one of the aims of the organization I allegedly led was to organize and infiltrate the civil service is downright slanderous. One might just as well try to organize a morgue.

Goyer’s letter, written in 1971 when he was solicitor general, referred to the existence of a group of people organized around the concept of “extra-parliamentary opposition,” a term coined by radical groups in the United States in the 1960s to describe their activities in opposition to the war in Vietnam. The group is alleged to have sought to “organize and radicalize the underclasses of society and mold them into a revolutionary force.” According to Goyer, the group also aimed to radicalize “sympathetic civil servants, getting them to support its long-term political program of socialist revolution.” In the sanitized version of the letter made public in the House of Commons last month, 1 am referred to as “(deleted) of the Canadian Union of Students” and described as the leader, for a time, of the extra-parliamentary group.

It is true that some debate took place in the late Sixties about the idea of an extraparliamentary opposition. The discovery of this debate, which no doubt cost the taxpayers several thousand dollars, could have been made by anyone who read the journal Our Generation, a new left publication that dated back to ban-the-bomb days. The fact that the journal was on sale at a number of bookstores might cast some doubt on the conspiratorial nature of the proceedings. Essentially the left-wing intellectuals who participated in the debate were asking the perennial question: how do we best organize for social change? As usual, the contributors had conflicting ideas, though I do not recall anyone ridiculous enough to suggest infiltrating the civil service. More typical was an article by Howard Buchbinder (then head of the Praxis Corp., a research organization dealing primarily with problems of poverty; now a professor at York University in Toronto), which appeared in 1970, discussing the idea of community control in the light of the experience of the American war on poverty. Heady stuff, perhaps, but it was hardly the harbinger of revolution. In all modesty 1 should be honest about my own role. I contributed nothing to the debate and knew scarcely anyone involved in it— hardly the characteristics of leadership.

What is remarkable about Goyer’s letter

is that a leading federal politician could imagine its contents to be true. The position of the security service is easier to understand. Charitably, one might excuse them for simply trying to stay in business— there was not much to uncover in English Canada in 1970, and if you want to compete with other claims on the public treasury you have to be seen to be doing something. More unkindly, it is worth remembering that intelligence officers are not generally noted for their liberal views and no doubt some members of Canada’s security service still regard Pierre Elliott Trudeau as a dangerous subversive.

All this would be mildly entertaining if it were not for the price that must be paid by

those who populate the fantasy world of the Canadian security service. In my case that price has been high. Not, of course, that I was a victim selected at random. 1 have been involved in radical politics since 1 was 18. When I arrived in Canada from England in 1966 that involvement continued. I served as president of the Simon Fraser University Student Society, president of the Canadian Union of Students and worked actively with the Ottawa Tenants Association. The result was that I soon found myself in trouble with the immigration authorities. When 1 sought to exchange my student visa for landed immigrant status the customary medical examination took a bizarre turn: the examining doctor began to berate me for my activities at Simon Fraser. The abuse continued until he discovered that I was doing my graduate work on Cuba. At this point his

interest in Third World health programs seemed to get the better of him and he apologized for the earlier tirade, which he said was at the instigation of his superiors who hoped that my response would be sufficiently irate for them to declare me psychologically unstable and on that basis deny me immigrant status. In 1970,1 got a job as a summer student in the Department of Manpower and Immigration. A day or so after I started, the section head was told to fire me. It was inappropriate, he was told, that somebody the department considered deporting should be employed there. The director was brief and to the point. The government had asked him to hire a student; he had hired the former president of the national student union and that was that. At the end of the summer, I went to work for the citizenship branch of the Secretary of State’s department. After a few weeks an acquaintance in the department told me that the security service was urging my dismissal. My superior, Michael McCabe, confirmed that I had no future with Citizenship; my work was satisfactory, he said, but I was considered “psychologically unattuned to the needs of the department.” I was assured that the security service had not been involved. On January 28 this year, six years after the fact, McCabe told The Vancouver Sun that he had received an order to terminate my employment directly from the then deputy minister, Jules Leger.

How much effect the security service had on other employment possibilities is impossible to know. Lionel Orlikow, then assistant deputy minister in the Manitoba Department of Youth and Education, refused me a position in September. 1971.because of my “skepticism” though “all indications point out that you would be a valuable addition to our group.” It is simply that radicals are uncongenial to the well-heeled—or is it a part of a larger picture? For my part, I am tired of having my phone tapped and my car stopped by policemen who know my name even before they see my license.

To say, as Prime Minister Trudeau has, that Goyer’s letter is understandable in the wake of the FLQ crisis is to ignore that much of this harassment by the security forces went on before the crisis. And to argue as he has that it is inappropriate for the Prime Minister to ask how the security service gathers and uses data is to reveal a banal contempt for human rights.

Martin Loney returned to England in 1976, where he is a lecturer in community work at a London university.