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The royal commission on espionage 1946-1948: a case study in the mobilization of the Canadian Civil Liberties Movement Clement, Dominique Thomas


There exists, at this time, surprisingly little historiography on how civil liberties were shaped and developed in practice throughout Canadian history. An examination of the 1946 Royal Commission on Espionage offers several insights into the nature of the immediate post-World War Two civil liberties movement. The commission was formed in response to the defection of a Russian cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, in late 1945. The commission investigated the existence of a Russian-led spy ring that had recruited several Canadian civil servants into disclosing secret information. The commission is unique in Canadian history; dominantly due to the fact that it was empowered under the War Measures Act which granted it enormous powers. Everything from a citizen's right to counsel, habeas corpus, protection from state coercion and the right to a fair trial were circumvented. This work attempts to offer a few answers to some important questions about Canadian civil liberties. What were to consequences of the commission's actions? Does Canadian society accept the need to allow a government to violate individual liberties to protect the integrity of the state? Furthermore, the following article will examine the nature of the civil liberties movement following WWII, including the role of the media and civil liberties' organizations in increasing awareness of the vulnerability of individual rights from state abuse. The purpose of this work is to demonstrate the enormous potential in which Parliament could act independently in re-defining Canadians' civil liberties while at the same time demonstrating the central role the Royal Commission on Espionage played in stimulating the post-WWII civil liberties movement. The Royal Commission on Espionage is only one black spot in the history of Canadian civil liberties but there remain many questions to be asked about Canadians' willingness to trust and accept that dictates of the state.

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