The Mounties: it’s just one damn (or damnable) thing after another

ROBERT LEWIS November 28 1977

The Mounties: it’s just one damn (or damnable) thing after another

ROBERT LEWIS November 28 1977

The Mounties: it’s just one damn (or damnable) thing after another


Robert Samson, the former RCMP undercover agent who first revealed Mountie participation in an illegal 1972 break-in at a left-wing news agency in Montreal, had just been asked if he ever underwent special training for his work. Amid chuckles, Samson told a judicial inquiry in Montreal that the only course he took was one to improve his memory. The benefits, however, were not entirely evident. In hours of interrogation before lawyer Jean Keable’s inquiry, which is examining a series of allegations against security forces, Samson repeatedly failed to recollect any other Mountie operations he may have been involved in during the early 1970s.

Commission counsel Michel Decary persisted: “Did you ever see or use part of a file called ‘Disruptive Tactics’?... an RCMP file.” Samson: “I don’t remember. Possibly. I obtained volumes of lots of things, like methods of inquiry from other forces.”

The Samson testimony was just one more scene in a national drama revolving around the RCMP, but it was one of the more intriguing developments. It was clear that the Keable inquiry had established a line of questioning designed to elicit information in the still murky area surrounding cooperation between the Mounties and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It was trying to determine for the first tim whether the RCMP used CIA tactics and manuals in its dirty-tricks operations against alleged subversives in Canada.

In Ottawa, as the regular business of government seemed almost to grind to a halt amidst the developing security scandal, Prime Minister Trudeau and his Liberal cabinet began laying plans for an extensive defense and justification of past police and government actions.

Already the government has confirmed that former RCMP Security Service director

John Starnes authorized a team of Mounties to remove and copy membership lists of the Parti Québécois after breaking into an office in Montreal in 1973. Solicitor General Francis Fox has also confirmed a startling series of other incidents: the burning of a Quebec barn and the theft of dynamite by an RCMP unit in Montreal known as G-4; an operation, known by the code word “Cathedral,” in which mail has been opened illegally since 1954; the existence of a mysterious 10year-old file called “Featherbed,” which reportedly involved surveillance of a senior Trudeau government minister, civil servants and reporters who were suspected of being part of a Soviet spy network; and sustained surveillance of individuals, including labor leaders, by the RCMP(“Operation 300”) and the armed forces*

The Keable commission’s suspicions were understandable, given the striking similarity of covert activities by the RCMP u and the CIA which have been revealed in recent years. While the CIA connection with the RCMP is hardly a state secret—the CIA regularly supplies Mountie liaison officers with intelligence of interest to Canada— Maclean ’s has found new details on the extent to which the RCMP is trained in CIA methods.

Victor Marchetti, co-author of the ex-

*In the midst of it all, Toronto broadcasters Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton set off a new alarm in Ottawa with their announcement that an unnamed source apparently had access to the supposedly confidential tax returns of any Canadian. As proof the source had quickly produced the information on four people, including Templeton and Conservative Leader Joe Clark. Trudeau ordered the RCMP to plug the leak.

posé, The ci A And The Cult Of Intelligence, now makes a living peddling information on CIA activities that he had sworn to keep secret during 14 years as an agency employee. Marchetti told Washington correspondent William Lowther: “We have always been very close with the RCMP. The CIA has greater espionage skills than any other agency in the world. So, we train the Canadians in a lot of the technical aspects. I’m talking about how to open letters so that nobody can tell they’ve been tampered with, how to bug telephones, how to bug offices and houses, how to break into places, that sort of thing.”

Marchetti recalls meeting Canadians at a CIA training centre called Camp Perry, an old naval installation outside Williamsburg, Virginia, known as “The Farm.” “I did my own training there and I’ve met Canadians there. We used to call them ‘Friendlies.’ ”

Another former CIA agent confirms the training of RCMP agents by the CIA, adding: “There’s no reason at all to think the training program was stopped. For sure there will be Canadians getting CIA training right now.” Marchetti asserts that the RCMP-CIA connection was particularly close at the time of the first major Canadian wheat o sales to China and the Soviet Union. The two forces also exchanged intelligence about Cuba, U.S. war resisters in Canada and separatists in Quebec, he says.

In another development, attention turned to the controversial Robin Bourne, head of an operation called the Police and Security Planning and Analysis Branch in

the Solicitor General’s office. Conservative MPS Erik Nielsen and Frank Oberle charged that this branch does not simply analyze intelligence provided by the RCMP, but that Bourne operates a secret network of paid informers who spy on labor leaders, reporters and leftists. In a rare interview Bourne, an affable and soft-spoken

ex-military man, denied the allegations, telling Maclean’s they are “absolute garbage.” Asked if he does in fact operate a separate intelligence network, he replied:

“I do not. I have no field operations or any responsibilities (for operations) whatsoever.”

There is much more of the story yet to unfold. In the months ahead, Starnes, Bourne, RCMP officials and cabinet ministers will be called to testify before the Commission of Inquiry into RCMP activities and procedures under Alberta judge David McDonald, with hearings opening in Montreal December 6. The government, meanwhile, will begin to mount a case to justify illegal and illicit activities in the interests of national security. The first step in that process came during November when Fox, attempting to justify illegal opening of mail, told the Commons that one such interception resulted in the arrest and deportation of a Japanese Red Army terrorist earlier this year. “We can say it was not justified, that it was illegal,” Fox declared. “(But) we should not be too, too harsh in commenting on the actions of these people.”

Another indication of the emerging government defense was the presence of Gordon Robertson, nominally head of the Federal-Provincial Relations Office but in fact one of Pierre Trudeau’s most important troubleshooters and Ottawa’s ranking mandarin, at lunch with Starnes at the Rideau Club in Ottawa on November 14. Starnes is expected to tell the McDonald commission that some of the Mountie actions were not regarded at the time as illegal and, at any rate, were justified by threats to national security.

It is an argument that finds some support among the parliamentary opposition. In a letter to his constituents on November 2, for example, Conservative Leader Joe Clark acknowledged: “It is generally accepted throughout the world that governments, on occasion, have to authorize and follow some secret activities.” Clark began shifting the emphasis from the Mounties to the issue of ministerial accountability. As one CNrk aide neatly summed up the opposition’s dilemma: “It’s not politic to attack Sergeant Preston.” ROBERT LEWIS with correspondent reports