Canada

The Parliament Hill Mob

Robert Lewis July 11 1977
Canada

The Parliament Hill Mob

Robert Lewis July 11 1977

The Parliament Hill Mob

Canada

Robert Lewis

In 1880, Constable Holmes of the NorthWest Mounted Police traveled the northern tundra throughout a fierce winter, sleeping in snowdrifts, to vaccinate the natives against a smallpox epidemic. In 1908 Inspector E. A. Pelletier and his squad survived a shipwreck and ate raw deer meat during a nine-month, 3,347-mile trek across the North to establish Canadian sovereignty. And in the 1970s the Mounties found h'l.Q kidnap victim James Cross, the British diplomat, and successfully secured the Olympic site in Montreal from terrorism.

Such is the stuff that for 104 years made the Royal Canadian Mounted Police a preeminent national symbol—more entrenched than fiddleheads and maple syrup, more enduring than Maurice Richard and almost as venerable as Mother. But abruptly on the eve of Canada’s gaudy 110th celebration of nationhood and in the midst of a national unity crisis, the country’s ultimate symbol took on the coloration of tainted meat. The RCMP’S reputation was threatened by a tawdry series of revelations that implicated the force in a four-year cover-up of an illegal break-in in Montreal in 1972, possession of stolen documents in Toronto and botched criminal investigations in New Brunswick and Alberta.

All indications, according to authoritative government sources, point to even worse discoveries to come, including possible disclosure of a sustained pattern of il-

legal break-ins, wiretappings, buggings and other sordid tactics by the RCMP’S Security Service. And the issue of who, if anyone, now controls the RCMP has suddenly become an intensely national concern.

Historically the RCMP has exerted enormous, often secret power over the lives of Canadians. When the west was settled and natives who lost their aboriginal land were placated, the RCMP was the government’s most important instrument. Then, in the 1930s, the force infiltrated the labor movement and acted as strike breakers for major corporations. In the Fifties, the targets were Communists. The RCMP’S accumulation of control, however, reached its zenith during the campus agitation and political terrorism of the last decade.

Those were the days when the anti-terrorist squad was formed in Quebec and when illegal tactics were apparently accepted as regular tools in counterespionage against terrorists. It appears, however, that the techniques spread to other areas of the force as well. When complaints were lodged, the Mounties customarily investigated the charges against their members with predictable results. That, at least, is one inescapable conclusion emerging from the current series of judicial inquiries and allegations about RCMP undercover activities right across the country.

In Edmonton, for example, a judicial inquiry by Judge James Laycraft of the Alberta Supreme Court has been pre-

occupied by charges that RCMP Inspector Stan Maduk bugged the hotel rooms of three Edmonton policemen, who had gone to Winnipeg to authenticate documents seized in a joint Edmonton-RCMP raid on Royal American Shows, a Florida-based midway operation that played the Prairie circuit.

The probe focused on testimony that an RCMP corporal had risked disciplinary action by drawing the alleged bugging to the attention of assistant commissioner Peter Wright. The inquiry heard from Wright that an internal Mountie investigation was bungled when another assistant commissioner, Donald Wardrop, failed to take notes during his interviews and, as a result, wasn’t sure who told him what. Solicitor General Francis Fox also refused to release an internal RCMP report on the matter to the inquiry on grounds that national security and international relations would be threatened.

In Fredericton, a similarjudicial inquiry under Chief Justice Charles Hughes of the New Brunswick Supreme Court has heard testimony from two RCMPoflficers that their superior, Superintendent J. B. Giroux, ordered them to drop an investigation of allegations that the governing provincial Conservative Party has been running a potentially explosive political kickback scheme with private contractors. One of the officers, Sergeant Ron Wolsey, “strongly disagreed” and went over Giroux’ head to report the charges to

Mountie headquarters in Ottawa.

And in Toronto after a break-in at Praxis Corp., a poor people’s organizing group, stolen documents ended up in the hands of the RCMP. Frank Oberle, a Conservative MP from British Columbia, charged in the Commons that then solicitor general Jean-Pierre Goyer (now Minister of Supply and Services) used the documents to draw up a list of alleged antigovernment civil servants. Metro Toronto police have cleared the RCMP of involvement in the Praxis break-in, but when

Oberle continued to press his assertion, Fox mysteriously ordered him to lay off because the life of an informant would be endangered.

In Nova Scotia, meanwhile, provincial Judge Leo MacIntyre was to release a report soon on allegations that a Shubenacadie doctor was harassed by Mounties using illegal tactics including breaking into his office three times and installing a bugging device.

The menacing prospect that national security excuses and RCMP cover-ups is, in fact, a widespread and ominous practice becomes particularly credible when measured against the existing record of abuses in the break-in at l’Agence de Presse Libre du Québec in Montreal in 1972, an incident that even RCMP commissioner Mau-

rice Nadon admits has hurt the force’s image. The case has been marked by the persistent reluctance of the RCMP and the government to answer some profound questions raised by their own spare statements. A partial list of unexplained matters:

• What was the RCMP doing participating with Quebec and Montreal police in the October 6-7, 1972, entry without a warrant? The official response is that the Combined Anti-Terrorist Squad (CATS) suspected that the APLQ was an FLQ front and that its files contained evidence of a terrorist action planned on the second anniversary of the assassination of Pierre Laporte, the Quebec cabinet minister who died while being held by the FLQ in October, 1970.

• If so, why was the response to such a potentially explosive incident approved by then Inspector Donald Cobb of the RCMP in Montreal and not by Mountie headquarters in Ottawa? Why were the commissioner of the RCMP and-the head of the Quebec Provincial Police, as they assert, not consulted on the raid?

• Why didn’t the RCMP immediately inform Goyer of their involvement? Why didn’t Goyer ask the Mounties if they were involved after the APLQ sent him a letter alleging RCMP involvement? Goyer says he never saw the letter, that it was sent directly to the Mounties for a reply.

• Did Goyer fail to ask because he didn't want to know? If so, or if he simply overlooked the obvious query, why did Goyer not resign under the time-honored tradition of ministerial responsibility?

• Why did Montreal police stop their internal investigation of the incident? Who destroyed the files removed from the APLQ offices and why? Will Solicitor General Fox produce a manifest of documents destroyed in an RCMP incinerator last month to back up his assertion that none of them related to the APLQ case?

• How can Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau be so assured that the APLQ break-in was “an aberration.” an isolated act, when Goyer never bothered to ask at the time?

Presumably some of these questions will be answered at an inquiry ordered by the Quebec government, which opens this month, into the APLQ affair. One reason Ottawa has resisted its own inquiry is that Quebec Liberals have long memories of the ruination of the political careers of such former ministers as Guy Favreau, Maurice Lamontagne and Lucien Cardin, who were burned by this type of investigation. Although the only existing records in the APLQ case are federal ones, the Trudeau government—despite public assurances of cooperation with Quebec— plans to be careful with documents it turns over to the Quebec inquiry. One reason federal officials are so uneasy is that the head of the Quebec inquiry. Jean Keable, is an accomplished 31-year-old Quebec City lawyer, who had close political ties to the Parti Québécois: he ran unsuccessfully

in the 1973 provincial election, coincidentally in a riding embraced by Goyer’s federal constituency, and was campaign coordinator last fall for Claude Morin, the intergovernmental affairs minister in René Lévesque’s cabinet.

Keable, who has to report by August 15, will have powers to subpoena documents and witnesses—some of whom may have a song to sing. There are two former Mounties in Montreal, who, presumably, know a great deal about the activities of the CATS; Sergeants Donald McCleery and Gilles Brunet worked on the anti-terrorist squad and had a combined 37 years of RCMP service when, in 1973, they were abruptly dismissed from the force (McCleery, in fact, is credited with finding Cross in 1970). The RCMP commissioner’s reasons for the dismissals were McCleery’s and Brunet’s association with Mitchell Bronfman, of the Seagram family, who in turn had business dealings with William Obront, a meat vendor and a reputed Montreal underworld figure who was jailed for fraud and for refusing to testify before the Quebec crime probe.

When the two officers sought a review of their dismissal the Federal Court ruled in their favor. Then, however, McCleery and Brunet decided against seeking the actual review. The reason: the public release of justice department documents would have been incriminating to the two dismissed Mounties and to Bronfman, current president of Securex, a protective service in which McCleery and Bronfman are partners. The two former Mounties still feel they were dismissed without a proper hearing. Brunet says only, “1 don’t want to make waves at this stage”—but anxious federal officials are aware that the two men could rock the boat if they are so inclined.

The darkest suggestion arising from the series of RCMP activities is that the government, as much as it is uneasy about the RCMP. may be determined to prevent a sordid exposure of Canada’s little-known national security service. The incidents have sent government advisers to the shelves of the Parliamentary Library to review copies of a royal commission report on national security in 1968. In a now-prophetic passage the blue-ribbon panel concluded; “A security service will inevitably be involved in actions that may contravene the spirit if not the letter of the law, and with clandestine and other activities which may sometimes seem to infringe on an individual’s rights; these are not appropriate police functions.” The commission accordingly recommended a separate, non-police national security agency. Two factors could minimize the damage from revelations about illegal RCMP activities—theTrudeau government’s persistent refusal to call an inquiry into the Mounties and public acceptance of illicit police tactics in the pursuit of big-time criminals and terrorists.

The debacle has been a gift for Trudeau’s parliamentary opposition, particularly NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who

has pressed his case for an RCMP inquiry with certainty and emerged as the real leader of the opposition in the Commons against Joe Clark’s poor performance. For the government, the affair is a golden opportunity to transform its longtime wish for more political control over the force into reality. For the RCMP, this is not the first, nor probably the last, time that its self-promoted image of clean-cut all-Canadianism has crumbled. Besides, as one of the troopers observes optimistically; “It’s not going to affect the force where it counts—in the West and the Maritimes. There, the people feel they should have burned the place [APLQ] down. The only thing they know about us in Ontario and Quebec is the musical ride”