CANADA

Gumshoe on the other foot

Robert Lewis September 14 1981
CANADA

Gumshoe on the other foot

Robert Lewis September 14 1981

Gumshoe on the other foot

CANADA

Robert Lewis

While the blame to be attached to “foot soldiers"for breaking the law cannot be absolved by the failure of management to provide clear and proper instructions, the consequences which flow from such law-breaking may be affected by that failure.

The conclusion of the McDonald report on the RCMP lies at the heart of the defence by the first foot soldiers to appear in the courts. Lawyers for 15 Security Service operatives are expected to move next week that charges be quashed because, in effect, the men were sent on missions without any directions. Ultimately, the cases could revolve around an even larger question: did members of the government, even if they did not know about illegal acts, fail in their duties to oversee the gumshoes?

The charges are the first in a series of accusations to be heard this month and next. They flow from two sets of actions: a clandestine raid in 1973 that resulted in the removal of membership lists of René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois (Operation Ham); and the forced recruitment of potential spies in suspected terrorist cells in 1971 and 1972.* John Starnes, former director of the Se-

curity Service, who told the McDonald Commission that he approved Ham without the knowledge of the government, was not charged by the Quebec government.

Starnes, the McDonald report concluded, told Pierre Trudeau and other

*Preliminary motions in connection with an alleged theft of 56 sticks of dynamite will be heard Sept. 22 in St. Jean, Que., and a similar session on Oct. 1 in Granby, Que., will deal with an alleged barn burning.

ministers in December, 1970, that the Security Service had been doing “illegal things for 20 years but [was] never caught.” The report found that Starnes did not tell the government about any specific illegalities and that ministers made no further inquiries—either because they felt that Starnes was raising a theoretical dilemma, or that he was alluding to actions that the government felt were proper for the security police. These activities included faking new identities for undercover agents, entering homes to plant bugs or breaking laws to prove their credentials in suspected subversive circles.

In the wake of the McDonald findings, Trudeau allowed that the matters raised by Starnes fall into “a pretty grey area” which only the courts can decide, although the government does not think they were illegal. McDonald concluded that senior RCMP officers attempted—but failed—to have the legal dilemma decided “at the highest level of government.” But it added that the “failure” of the government to pursue the matter has no relevance to cases before the courts—although a judge “may be of a different view.”

In an interview with Maclean’s last week, Starnes criticized McDonald for failing to focus on “the inability of the government to come to grips with some of the problems.” He expressed relief that a key set of notes documenting his claim that he informed ministers of “illegal things” was discovered “by pure chance” and then was turned over to the McDonald commission. As for Trudeau’s declaration that the matter is now for the courts, Starnes added, “I don’t know that that’s much comfort to someone in 1981 who may be asked to do these things, the legality of which can only be tested in the courts—no more comfort than it was to the people who were working for me in 1970.”

Starnes refused to comment on matters relating to upcoming cases—and on an intriguing revelation last week by author John Sawatsky that Starnes approved the 1970 building of a tunnel in Hull along the Ottawa River as part of a Security Service plan to bug the proposed site of the Chinese Embassy (the scheme foundered when the Chinese went elsewhere). As he prepared for a vacation in Greece, Starnes allowed that his decision to take on the job as director of the Security Service had brought mixed blessings. While he wouldn’t do it again, he said he had “learned a lot.” He had also enjoyed the advantage of serving with men and women who, “no matter what criticism may be levelled at them, are patriots and hard-working, generally law-abiding citizens.” Just how abiding, as the PM says, is now a matter for the courts in Quebec.