RCMP suspected Rene Levesque was a communist: report
OTTAWA - Newly released documents reveal that RCMP spies once labelled Rene Levesque "a suspected Communist."
The provocative passage appears in RCMP intelligence service records on the late Quebec journalist and politician obtained Wednesday by The Canadian Press after a complaint to the federal information watchdog.
Before entering politics in 1960, Levesque was a prominent host with the CBC's French-language television service, which came under close Mountie scrutiny.
A January 1959 memo to the RCMP commissioner focused on striking CBC producers in Montreal who were supported by several other unions and labour groups, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour.
"It is reported ... that Rene Levesque, a suspected Communist, is the co-ordinator between the strikers and the union bodies mentioned above," says the memo.
The new pages are part of a 2,500-page RCMP dossier on Levesque released by Library and Archives Canada under the Access to Information Act.
Large portions of the file were made public in November 2007, but hundreds of pages were withheld from release. Additional material was disclosed following a complaint by The Canadian Press to the federal information commissioner.
Other pages now public show a source informed the Mounties of future separatist leader Jacques Parizeau's presence at a 1971 Parti Quebecois meeting. However, much of the Levesque file remains secret.
The material released in 2007 revealed the RCMP's security branch closely tracked Levesque from his early career as a globe-trotting broadcaster, through his evolution into stalwart separatist and eventual emergence as Quebec premier in the 1970s.
The records made it clear the Mounties suspected the well-known commentator of being a left-wing subversive during his days with the CBC, but the newly released assertion he may be a Communist punctuates those concerns.
Still, a 1962 memo states the RCMP had "no indication on file" that Levesque is or ever was a member of the Communist Party of Canada.
Personal files compiled by the RCMP's security and intelligence branch can be disclosed through the access law 20 years after a person's death.
Levesque, often seen with a signature cigarette dangling from his lips, died of a heart attack at 65 in November 1987.
Levesque apparently became ensnared in the RCMP's hunt for leftist radicals in the CBC, as suggested by a 1958 memo, "CBC Montreal -- Collaboration of Officials with Known Communists."
In 1959 the Mounties dissected one of his reports on Cold War politics. The following year Levesque joined the mainstream politic fray as a Liberal member of the Quebec legislature. He served in ministerial posts before quitting the Liberals and founding what would become the Parti Quebecois.
By 1972, the Mounties determined Levesque was "not considered a subversive revolutionary. He is a strong Quebec nationalist who advocates separation of that province through peaceful and democratic means."
But as late as June 1980, shortly after Levesque led a failed referendum bid for sovereignty, an RCMP Security Service officer recommended continuing to monitor his activities, "because of the key position he occupies at this time." He added cryptically that "the protection of the man could justify it."
Notations show Levesque's file was viewed in the late 1970s by the McDonald Commission, which looked into misdeeds by the RCMP's security service -- an inquiry that led to creation of the civilian Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 1984.
The final entries in the Levesque file are press clippings from 1985.
Extensive RCMP files on other politicians, including NDP chiefs David Lewis and Tommy Douglas, have also been declassified in recent years -- though many pages remain under wraps.