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Spying 101: The Rcmp’s Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917–1997

by Steve Hewitt

In light of sweeping new police powers approved by the Canadian government last fall, Spying 101 is a timely and valuable document of a shameful chapter in Canadian history. Many readers will be shocked to discover that the RCMP has always shown a special interest in the activities of students and professors at post-secondary institutions, normally thought to be bastions of free expression and discussion.

Beginning with the First World War, the Mounties – primarily concerned about the potential for inquiring minds to be “infected” with communist subversion – went to great lengths to ensure that campus groups that staged Bertolt Brecht plays, screened German feature films, or formed gay and lesbian support networks were documented, analyzed, and, when deemed necessary, infiltrated, disrupted, and neutralized.

Since then, the RCMP has consistently kept tabs on the demographics of university enrolment, the opinions of campus papers and journals, and the activities and thoughts of professors. The inclusion here of declassified file excerpts is both comical and frightening, revealing how far the government will go in terms of defining and protecting its own version of security.

While the book is accessible to the average reader, Hewitt occasionally skimps on analyzing the historical contexts in which some of the events occurred. Readers unfamiliar with key eras of 20th-century history will be confused when such significant events as the execution of the Rosenbergs or the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile merit only one sentence each.

But as protesters prepare to descend on Kananaskis for the G-8 summit later this year, Spying 101 provides an excellent introduction to the types of dirty tricks, surveillance, and “counter-subversion” many Canadians interested in social change are likely to encounter at the hands of Canada’s security forces.


Reviewer: Matthew Behrens

Publisher: University of Toronto Press


Price: $30

Page Count: 304 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-8020-4149-3

Released: July

Issue Date: 2002-6

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, History