Spying 101: The RCMP's Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917–1997


295 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-4149-3
DDC 323.44'82'0971




Reviewed by Clint MacNeil

Clint MacNeil teaches history, geography, and world religion at St.
Charles College in Sudbury, Ontario.


From its inception in 1920, until the creation of the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 1984, the RCMP assumed responsibility for
Canada’s national security. While many abhorred the idea of gathering
intelligence on individuals and organizations in a democratic society,
the RCMP thought otherwise. Fear of revolution gave impetus to the
creation of a “Special Branch” that handled intelligence matters.
The RCMP acted on behalf of the federal government and monitored the
perceived infiltration and subversion of democracy. Originally, members
of the force maintained surveillance over ethnic groups considered to be
enemy aliens and labour unions perceived as breeding grounds for
communist rhetoric.

Revelations made by Igor Gouzenko in 1945 placed the RCMP on a
heightened state of alert and broadened the scope of their
investigations. Convinced that communist agitators had infiltrated the
elite echelons of society, the RCMP placed many universities under
surveillance. Students, faculty, and their activities fell under RCMP
scrutiny. Mounties enrolled in political science courses and recruited
informants. The force maintained files on numerous institutions,
including Toronto, McGill, Queen’s, York, Laval, Saskatchewan, and
Laurentian. The RCMP conducted the surveillance of students and faculty
as way of protecting them from communist influence.

The RCMP also monitored “new threats,” including the New Left, the
FLQ, and Natives in the 1970s. Following the McDonald Commission and
public outcry, the RCMP passed responsibility for national security to
the newly created CSIS. Coincidentally, members of the RCMP found
employment with the new agency. The surveillance of suspected terrorist
groups and foreign students considered economic spies undoubtedly
continues to this day.

Steve Hewitt presents a meticulously researched narrative that relies
on archival material and interviews with former RCMP intelligence
officers. He provides a most informative and balanced appraisal of the
force’s efforts during the 20th century. Hewitt presents his readers
with the image of a Mountie who had little or no specialized training,
minimal education, and an imprecise mandate set by a government that
privately approved of his actions. In a twist of irony, the RCMP used
undemocratic measures to preserve democracy and may have embellished
their reports in order to ensure the force’s survival as the Cold War


Hewitt, Steve., “Spying 101: The RCMP's Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917–1997,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17999.