To many, the unprecedented crackdown and detention of over 1000 activists, dissidents, even regular people, at the G20 Summit in Toronto seemed to express the emergence of a ‘police state’ in Canada. For others, it was unbelievable that this could happen ‘here,’ that things like this only happened elsewhere, in ‘other’ places, like in third world countries or under military dictatorships.
Some Canadians may recall the internment of over 9000 ‘enemy aliens’ during World War I – mostly the Ukrainians who were reduced to slave-like labour, working under the barrel of a gun, clearing, draining, and cultivating new lands for more worthy settlers. Many more will also remember the dispossession and internment of some 22,000 Japanese Canadians during World War II. However, ceremonial apologies have rendered these events regrettable things of the past and have nothing to do with today, right? Wrong.
Most Canadians would not likely believe that for 33 years a highly secret Cold War-era program existed that not only spied on tens of thousands of political dissidents and activists in Canada but had a fully operational plan in effect to indefinitely intern 16,000 suspected Canadian communists in interment camps, and further, to neutralize up to an additional 50,000 suspected sympathizers. The program was known as Operation Profunc, ‘Profunc’ being shorthand for ‘Prominent Functionaries of Groups with Communist Affiliations,’ who were to be the target of neutralization in the event of an emergency. Many of the details of Profunc were released for the first time to the public on October 15, 2010 on the CBC program Fifth Estate, in its documentary ‘Enemies of the State’, (which can be freely viewed online from CBC’s website).
In 1950, in the early years of the Cold War, the Canadian government signed off on a domestic surveillance program of frightening proportions. Wrapped in the Cold War discourse of fighting the foreign communist bogeyman and their spies, the program was directed at everything but a foreign threat. It was domestic dissidents that the program was after: communists, radicals, even social reformers like Tommy Douglas, a founder of the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner to the NDP. The same man, Douglas, who was popularly elected ‘The Greatest Canadian’ on the CBC’s 2004 television program by the same name was spied upon for 30 years by the RCMP, the details of which will never be released to the public for reasons of ‘national security.’
Each of the 16,000 people who had a regular file maintained on them had special apprehension orders pre-signed, with detailed instructions of what was to be done to them in the event of a national emergency. On ‘M-Day’, or Mobilization Day, all these people would be simultaneously rounded up in midnight raids conducted by all levels of law enforcement, passed through local processing facilities, and prepared for the internment camps. Toronto’s Casa Loma was to be one of these processing facilities. Once interned in their concentration camp-like facilities, internees would be under strict military control and would be fired upon if they attempted to escape.
What is perhaps most frightening about Profunc is that it was fully operational at a time when communists in Canada posed little threat to national security. Notwithstanding, the RCMP, in a peacetime liberal democracy, had fully operational plans to impose an order that could only be compared to fascist or military dictatorships.
Although the full breadth of the program was never actually executed, Operation Profunc files were in fact used to arrest hundreds of Marxist dissidents during the 1970 ‘October Crisis.’ On October 16, 1970 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau imposed the War Measures Act to sweepingly crush the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ). Most of those arrested were in fact communists tracked by Operation Profunc and the RCMP knew that they had nothing to do with the FLQ. But the mere presence of critics and dissidents free to roam society in a time of military rule in Quebec was enough to lead to their arrest and detention.
In 1983, the program would be silently put to sleep after then Solicitor General Robert Kaplan received a few too many complaints from senior citizens who couldn’t cross the border – now harmless targets of the decades-old Cold War program. Kaplan, himself Solicitor General, the Minister responsible for the RCMP, apparently had no awareness of the program’s scope or content.
The repression experienced by activists and regular people at G20 Summit and in its aftermath suggests that little has changed in Canada. In fact, to anyone willing to honestly examine the role of Canadian policing, intelligence, and military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Palestine today, the existence of Operation Profunc may only confirm what many of us already expected.
The ‘security’ apparatus that gave rise to Operation Profunc has spawned the ‘War on Terror’ and many a bogus show trial against alleged ‘terrorists.’ Today, more than 20 agencies and departments in Canada perform national security functions and intelligence gathering. It’s doubtful that the repressive intentions that drove the construction of concentration camps in World War I and II or that managed Operation Profunc from the 1950s-80s are any different than those behind the ‘War on Terror.’ In fact, as Canada intensifies its wars and occupations abroad and against indigenous peoples and their land within Canada’s borders, domestic repression is sure to intensify, as we have already seen in relation to anti-Olympics and anti-G20 activist groups.