Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Access to history

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Was Tommy Douglas the greatest Canadian, or just a dangerous Canadian?

Historians may never be able to answer the question definitively because the federal government, citing national security, refuses to release the politician's full dossier collected by security agents over a 50-year period.

Unlike in Great Britain and the United States, Canada's Access to Information Act says information -- even documents more than 70 years old -- can be kept secret indefinitely if they could imperil Canada's "detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities."

The matter has been the subject of a legal dispute since 2005 when The Canadian Press filed a freedom of information request for Douglas's secret, 1,149-page file compiled by the now-defunct RCMP Security Service.

Agents tracked and monitored Douglas's ideas and contacts, particularly with the Communist party and the peace movement, over a period starting in the 1930s until just before his death in 1986.

About 80 per cent of the dossier was eventually released, but important sections remain secret, including files from the 1930s.

The Canadian Press exhausted its legal appeals after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case, but the government must revisit its restrictive legislation. No modern country should deny its citizens access to their history, which is what the Douglas case is really all about.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 A14

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