Whatever information covert RCMP operations may have dug up on former prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson was lost to history in the late 1980s.
As The Canadian Press reported on Sunday, agents with the now-defunct RCMP Security Service compiled dossiers on the two politicians, but were destroyed in 1989 by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service which inherited the files.
Newly declassified records show that CSIS discarded the files to “respect the privacy rights” of the prime ministers, an explanation intelligence historians dismiss as ridiculous.
“The notion they were destroyed for privacy reasons is just nonsensical,” University of Toronto professor Wesley Wark said.
The confidential files were among hundreds the RCMP security branch amassed on politicians, senior public servants, judges and other “high profile” persons during the Cold War under what was then known as the VIP Program. Some of these files, including those on Quebec premier René Lévesque and NDP leaders David Lewis and Tommy Douglas, wound up in the National Library and Archives.
It is, of course, debatable whether the personal lives of former politicians should be open to scrutiny by the general public in this way, even if the information is only released years or even decades after their deaths.
In our opinion, like those of Douglas or Lévesque, full RCMP files on Diefenbaker, Pearson and any other public official, should have found a home in the national archives. The precedent had already been set. Besides, the RCMP files could have shed new light on not only the lives of two of Canada’s most famous leaders, but also the opinions of the RCMP Security Service officers of the day.
At the very least, CSIS officials, who are not trained historians or archivists, should not be handling files of this nature. The situation is still a problem today as CSIS remains the custodian of the RCMP files.
We agree with Prof. Wark, who called for a new partnership between federal agencies, Library and Archives Canada and an external historical advisory committee to make better decisions in the future.
Written Canadian history should not be lost, or forgotten, at the whim of security officials.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 19, 2012