The Hamilton Spectator
Black activist was target of RCMP dirty tricks
It has long been known that the RCMP Security Service took a keen interest in Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas, a Black rights activist who attended school in Canada and would go on to be prime minister of Dominica.
But recently released records reveal just how far the Mounties would go in the early 1970s to keep an eye on the young visitor from the Caribbean.
Douglas, the son of a wealthy coconut grower in tiny Dominica, came to Ontario to study agriculture before moving on to Sir George Williams University in Montreal.
Initially a supporter of the federal Conservatives, he became an outspoken advocate for the advancement of Black people and forged ties with international movement leaders.
Though he was a master’s student at McGill University by early 1969, Douglas emerged as one of the leaders of a protest at Sir George Williams against alleged racism. As police moved to evict the student demonstrators, a fire broke out and chaos ensued.
Douglas was among the dozens arrested and charged. He served 18 months in jail and was forced to leave Canada in 1976.
Douglas promoted the push for Dominica’s full independence from Britain and would lead the country as prime minister for a short time before his death in 2000 at age 58.
A commission of inquiry into questionable RCMP security activities publicly confirmed more than 40 years ago that Douglas was a target of Security Service surveillance while in Canada. The Mounties recruited an informant who infiltrated the Black activist community and became an associate of Douglas.
A special operations group at the Security Service developed a national program of disruptive countermeasures in the early 1970s to prevent or contain what the force saw as the potential for political violence by agitators of various stripes.
Specific targets of the program, which came to be known as Checkmate, were classified for many years. But records disclosed through the Access to Information Act reveal that one of these actions was aimed at eavesdropping on Douglas’s conversation with a fellow activist.
The RCMP knew Douglas used his own car to travel short distances but unwittingly depended on one of the force’s informants to transport him on longer trips.
Douglas was heading to Toronto to meet an important contact from the Caribbean. The RCMP reasoned that if his car were immobilized, Douglas would need to travel in the informant’s vehicle with the visitor, allowing “us to monitor their discussions through technical means,” says an internal account of the Checkmate program, released under the access law.
“A chemical, harmless to the engine, was introduced to the gas tank of Douglas’ car for this purpose. The operation was unsuccessful due to the chemical’s malfunction.”
The RCMP archival records highlight concerns about the emergence in the 1960s of more radical elements of the New Left and the extreme right. They point to expanding membership in Communist, Trotskyist, Maoist and other political organizations, including the separatist FLQ in Quebec.
Security Service tactics during the era included illegal break-ins, the theft of a Parti Québécois membership list and the burning of a barn to prevent a meeting from taking place. The RCMP’s deeds led to the disbandment of the Security Service and the 1984 creation of the civilian Canadian Security Intelligence Service.