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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The origins of state security screening in Canada Hannant, Larry


Describing Canada's security intelligence practice, historians have identified 1945as a watershed. In September of that year Igor Gouzenko defected from the embassy of the Soviet Union in Ottawa, carrying with him evidence that the Soviets operated an espionage ring in this country. According to historical canon, Gouzenko's defection and the investigations which resulted from it forced the Canadian government to initiate a security screening program for civil servants and armed forces personnel. This program was an attempt to discern the political opinions, behaviour and trustworthiness of people in positions of trust both inside the state and outside. This thesis rewrites the conventional history of state security screening in Canada. By reexamining existing evidence and making use of records uncovered through the Access to Information Act, this work demonstrates that security screening of civil servants, military personnel and naturalization applicants began in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Revising the point at which security screening began also forces a reevaluation of the motivation for security screening. Security screening was not launched to detect and neutralize foreign espionage agents. Rather, it was borne out of a deep fear of communists among the Canadian people. Concern about internal dissent, not about foreign spying, was responsible for this new security intelligence development. This work also reexamines the Canadian government's supervision of its primary security intelligence agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Contrary to the widely held view that the Canadian cabinet initiated and supervised the screening system, this thesis shows that the RCMP operated a program for at least fifteen years without political authorization and guidance. In doing so, it committed acts which can only be regarded as civil liberties violations. Nevertheless, abuses were relatively minor. One reason why they were was the dubious legality of the program. Carrying out a program which lacked political approval, the RCMP kept a tight rein on the security screening system, fearing a controversy which could be embarrassing and damaging to its own security intelligence capacity.

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