OTTAWA — Canada’s spy service destroyed a Cold War dossier on Pierre Trudeau in 1989 instead of turning it over to the national archives, The Canadian Press has learned.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the secret file on the former prime minister was scrapped because it fell short of the legal threshold for retention by either the service or the archives.
News of the decision to purge the file, which is coming to light only three decades later, has stunned and disappointed historians.
“It’s just outrageous, there’s no other word to describe it,” said John English, who wrote an acclaimed biography of Trudeau. “It’s a tragedy that this has happened, and I think the explanation is weak.”
Steve Hewitt, who has spent years chronicling the country’s security services, called the destruction “a crime against Canadian history.”
“This wanton destruction cries out for parliamentary intervention to ensure that historically significant documents held by government agencies are preserved instead of being made to disappear down an Orwellian memory hole,” said Hewitt, a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham.
The Trudeau file was among hundreds of thousands the newly created CSIS inherited in the 1980s after the RCMP Security Service was dissolved following a series of scandals.
In a bid to uncover subversives out to disrupt the established order, RCMP spies eyed a staggering variety of groups and individuals, from academics and unions to environmentalists, peace groups and even politicians.
In 1988, James Kelleher, the federal minister responsible for CSIS at the time, directed the spy service to sort through the resulting heap of files.
Some RCMP records — including voluminous files on Quebec premier Rene Levesque and NDP leaders David Lewis and Tommy Douglas — were sent to the national archives.
Others were destroyed, including dossiers on prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. Still other files, judged to have current value at the time, went to CSIS’s active intelligence holdings.
Security records on individuals become eligible for disclosure under the Access to Information Act only 20 years after a person’s death. Until then, even the existence of a file is secret due to privacy considerations.
Rumours of a file on Trudeau, Canada’s third-longest serving prime minister, have circulated for decades.
A 1959 memo in the RCMP’s Levesque file indicates undercover officers duly noted Trudeau’s attendance at a gathering hosted by a Montreal artist.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has long worked closely with the Mounties, kept watch on Trudeau for more than 30 years, charting his path from globetrotting public intellectual who visited the Soviet Union in the early 1950s through his time as a Liberal prime minister.
The bureau’s heavily censored, 151-page dossier was released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act just months after Trudeau’s death in September 2000, in keeping with American disclosure practices.
The Canadian Press recently requested the former prime minister’s RCMP file under the access law from Library and Archives Canada and CSIS prior to the 20th anniversary of his passing next year, given that it can take many months to process such applications.
The archives swiftly replied that it does not have a Trudeau dossier. CSIS said its records indicate the file was destroyed on Jan. 30, 1989.
In a written response to questions, the spy service said a 1988 analysis of the Trudeau file concluded it did not meet the threshold in the CSIS Act to justify being kept in service’s active inventory. The file also fell short of criteria for preservation set out by the national archives and was therefore destroyed the following year, CSIS added.
“CSIS takes privacy considerations related to its work very seriously. We are committed to ensuring that the retention of information continues to be in compliance with all legislation and ministerial direction,” the agency said.
In addition, guidelines and regulations set by the archives “are always followed when determining whether CSIS holdings contain archival value.”
CSIS declined to elaborate on the rationale for purging the Trudeau file.
However, when destruction of the Pearson and Diefenbaker files became known seven years ago, the spy service noted they were presumably compiled at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
“That was a time when, as some historians argue, the security community occasionally saw threats that — hindsight being 20-20 — might seem exaggerated to us today.”
CSIS pointed out that such behaviour helped spur the federal government to divorce security-intelligence from law enforcement, leading to the creation of CSIS, a civilian agency.
Historians say that does not excuse erasing security files on former prime ministers from the national record.
It is the sort of practice “expected of an authoritarian state and not a proper democracy that values its history,” said Hewitt, co-author of the recent Just Watch Us, which delves into RCMP surveillance of the women’s movement.
University of Toronto historian Robert Bothwell said security files like the one on Trudeau tend to say more about the compilers than the subject of the surveillance. Nevertheless, important records should be kept.
“When it concerns a prime minister, it has historical value,” he said. “That’s a pretty clear standard.”
—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version did not make it clear that CSIS inherited old RCMP files in the 1980s.
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar
A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.
Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.
The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.
The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.
The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.
“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.
Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.
The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.
The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.
The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.
Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.
“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.
Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.
“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
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