Quebec

Scarlet tunics and red faces

DAVID THOMAS June 22 1981
Quebec

Scarlet tunics and red faces

DAVID THOMAS June 22 1981

Scarlet tunics and red faces

Quebec

DAVID THOMAS

This time, it’s the man that’s out to get the Mounties. Quebec’s attorney-general, Marc-André Bédard, last week charged 17 present and former members of the RCMP Security Service with a range of crimes that would make any true terrorist proud. The manhunt that finally brought them to justice was a lot longer and trickier than a dogsled chase across the tundra: it was four years ago this week that the still-honeymooning Parti Québécois moved to settle a few old scores by ordering a commission of inquiry into illegal police activity within the province. Mysterious thefts of dynamite, the burning of a commune barn and the theft of the PQ’s computerized membership list had come to light with the ratting of one of the horsemen’s own. Even before coming to power in 1976, the party feared the federal police force was meddling in its internal affairs: though it has never been publicly raised, top party leaders suspect the RCMP of having planted undercover agents so successfully that one became an official PQ candidate in 1970.

The biggest catch of alleged police conspirators and cat burglars was netted as a result of Commissioner Jean Keable’s investigation into the 1973 theft and copying of the PQ’s membership list—at a time when the party was Quebec’s duly elected official opposition in the National Assembly. The top cop charged with conspiracy in that caper was the RCMP’s former chief superintendent of the Security Service, Howard Draper. It was Draper, now retired, who allegedly authorized the theft of computer tapes storing the membership list for motives that were described variously from determining the degree of separatist infiltration of governments and the armed forces to the investigation of a tip from the federal cabinet office that the PQ may have been given $350,000 by a foreign power. Another senior officer charged with the theft and conspiracy leading up to it is theninspector and now Superintendent Alcide Nowlan who, four years after the alleged crime, conducted an internal RCMP inquiry into illegal operations by the force—but neglected to report the computer tapes robbery in which he allegedly was implicated. A surprising absence from the list of those charged is John Starnes who, as director-general of the Security Service, gave final approval for the operation without informing his political boss, the solicitor-general.

A separate set of charges is faced by a four-man squad of RCMP raiders who could not remember during Keable Commission testimony just why they stole a quantity of dynamite in 1972. The dynamite gang was allegedly made up of Mounties based in Montreal: charged with conspiracy, illegal entry and possession of dynamite are former staff sergeant Donald McCleery, Corporals Normand Chamberland and Bernard Dubuc and Constable Richard Daigle.

Two weeks later, McCleery and four underlings allegedly torched a barn on a leftist commune called Le Petit Québec Libré which was, according to police files, a rendezvous point for Front de Libération du Québec terrorists and members of the U.S. Black Panther party. The fire was set, the Keable inquiry was told, to prevent the amateurish Quebec terrorists from being trained in hardcore revolution by the American radicals. One of the accused firebugs, Sgt. Claude Brodeur, told Keable the conflagration had “cooled” relations between communards and the Black Panthers. Also charged with conspiracy and arson are McCleery and Corporals Bernard Dubuc and Bernard Blier.

In all, 44 charges were laid against RCMP personnel operating in the early 1970s and more charges were imminent concerning the kidnapping and intimidation of two men the RCMP attempted to recruit as informers. (They didn’t get their men.)