It was the most sought-after document in Ottawa: the list of 21 civil servants deemed by the RCMP’S Security Service division to constitute an “extra-parliamentary opposition”* inside the government. Although compiled in 1971, more than half those named are still in the civil service and, ac-
cording to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, some occupy “fairly senior posts.” But by the end of January neither the government nor the opposition MPS to whom the list had been leaked were willing to make public any names beyond one already known: fired civil servant Walter Rudnicki.
Rudnicki, a 50-year-old social worker who joined the civil service in 1955, was fired in 1973, allegedly for showing a confidential document to a native group while he was working for the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
But, inevitably, the names began to leak out. The Vancouver Sun reported the list included the name of Martin Loney, a former president of the Canadian Union of Students who worked for the government on contract in 1970 before going to England, where he now lives. The Ottawa Journal added the name of Farrell Toombs, 65, currently engaged in community work at the University of Toronto. He has never actually worked for the government but once turned down an offer from the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Maclean’s learned that the list also includes Bob Rabinovitch, at present assistant secretary to the cabinet. Rabinovitch, 33, was active in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a radical organization spawned on U.S. campuses in the 1960s, when he attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1965 to 1968. He was a special assistant to Secretary of State Gérard Pelletier before becoming a career civil servant in 1971.
Those listed apparently had nothing in common beyond an expressed concern for disadvantaged Canadians, a concern the government itself professed of len in the early Trudeau years in the search for a “just society.”
The government’s cloak of secrecy shrouding the list began lifting last summer when Frank Oberle, a Conservative
*The expression was coined by radical groups in the 1960s in the United States, where students carried their opposition to the Vietnam war and other government policies outside the norma! democratic process.
MP from British Columbia, told Rudnicki his name was on it. Rudnicki, assuming his dismissal might have been linked to the list, wrote on August 9 to Privy Council Clerk Michael Pitfield, the most senior civil servant in the government, to determine the role the list played, if any, in his dismissal. A Pitfield aide contacted the Security Service of the RCMP, which denied any such list existed. On September 30, Pitfield wrote back, to Rudnicki that he had “never before heard of the concept of an extra-parliamentary opposition.” As to Rudnicki’s qualms concerning his dismissal, Pitfield wrote that: “I sincerely believe these doubts to be entirely without foundation.”
On October 13, Oberle and Stuart Leggatt, an NDP MP from BC, asked in the House of Commons about the existence of a “blacklist.” Defense Minister Barney Danson, then Minister of Urban Affairs, said claims of a blacklist were “without any foundation.” Trudeau said, however, that he would look into the matter. On January 24, when the Commons resumed sitting after its 32-day Christmas recess, the opposition returned to the question but started calling the list by its proper name: the extra-parliamentary opposition. Said Danson: “My answer still stands. I am aware of no such list.” Added Trudeau in response to a question from Oberle: “I have not the slightest idea what the honorable member is talking about.” Questions
the following day again met with denials, but the opposition had already obtained the list by then, along with a covering letter from Supply and Services Minister JeanPierre Goyer, who, as solicitor-general in 1971, was responsible for the RCMP. The letter, written June 15, 1971, and the list were sent to Transport Minister Otto Lang, then Minister of Manpower and Immigration; Labor Minister John Munro, then Minister of Health and Welfare; Treasury Board President Robert Andras, then Minister of Urban Affairs; Senator Jean Marchand, then Minister of Regional Economic Expansion; and Gérard Pelletier, then Secretary of State.
Goyer also said in the covering letter that he would be discussing the matter with Trudeau. He did, and Trudeau approved his actions. Goyer’s letter said the 21 civil servants were “engaged in, or sympathetic
to, extra-parliamentary opposition activity in one way or another” and that they should be “watched with more than normal care.”
Fed up with trying to get answers to his persistent questions, Oberle read Goyer’s covering letter into the record in the Commons on January 26, deleting references to some specific groups or individuals. He also accused the ministers who had denied knowing of the letter of “deliberately misleading” the Commons, the parliamentary equivalent of calling them liars. Red-faced ministers finally conceded there was a list, lamely defending their actions by replying they had not realized to which list Oberle was referring.
Trudeau also denied it was a “blacklist” designed to wreck the careers of those named, noting that some people on the list are now in senior positions in the civil service. But Rudnicki, understandably, is not so sure. He had already won an $18,000 suit against the government for wrongful dismissal before the list was public knowledge. Now, he says, he is considering suing the government for libel.
Whether or not the list has damaged the careers of civil servants, the question remains: why was it compiled? It appears to have stemmed, in part, from the longstanding paranoia of the RCMP Security Service and contains a long preamble about the activities of left-wing groups in Canada. The RCMP saw a plot among these organizations to overthrow “the present sociopolitical system” and linked the 21 civil servants to their activities.
Goyer, a student radical himself in the 1950s, had a choice when confronted with the list: he could either tell the RCMP to pursue the 21 for possible prosecution under the Official Secrets Act or pass on the names to the responsible ministers for their information. He chose the latter course. Says Goyer today: “In matters of national security, one can be naive, prudent or repressive. I decided to be prudent. One can act in a responsible, irresponsible or callous manner. I acted responsibly.”
Some ministers called in the civil servants involved for a chat upon receiving the list; others apparently discarded it as just another example of RCMP paranoia. The list has not been updated, according to the government. “It was a one-shot action,” says Trudeau. But, asks Oberle, “After all this, how can we believe that?”
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