David Pugliese / CanWest News Service – 2006-11-16 23:28:45
(November 06, 2006) — The federal government had detailed lists of political activists and subversives it planned to arrest in the aftermath of a nuclear war or other national emergency, keeping such plans on the books until at least the early 1980s, according to new records obtained by an Ottawa historian.
Anywhere from 700 to 2,500 people, including babies, would have been held in internment camps before being shipped off to more permanent detention facilities.
Cold War historian John Clearwater obtained the records through the Access to Information Act while researching his book, Just Dummies: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada, which is being released today.
Clearwater said the federal government was shaken by the widespread opposition to cruise missile testing.
Although he knew the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service kept close tabs on peace groups during that period, Clearwater said he was surprised by the extent of the government’s plans during the Cold War to round up citizens it saw as subversive.
“It’s really about the fear,” he said in an interview. “The government feared people who disagreed with it during a time of a national emergency.”
Government plans to detain individuals were developed in the late 1940s and updated annually until the early 1980s, Clearwater noted. The first discussion of such a plan appears in 1948 when, on Dec. 15 of that year, the cabinet’s defence committee discussed the detainment of 2,500 people.
The Canadian military was given the job of transporting the prisoners to camps but the RCMP was the main organization in charge of rounding up political prisoners and organizing the program.
At one point, it was decided that children of internees would be separated from their families and placed in foster homes or with relatives if the RCMP felt the relatives were not a political threat.
Plans and detainment orders, as well as numbers of people to be imprisoned, changed over the decades, said Clearwater. The 1969 version of the plan called for the immediate arrest of 611 men and 189 women in the event of a national emergency, according to the records. A further 279 people were on a secondary internment list.
In 1970, the list was narrowed to 588 men and 174 women. The prisoners would be held in camps before being sent to federal prisons. That year, the Penitentiary Service of Canada notified the RCMP it required at least seven days between the notice of a national emergency and the receipt of the first prisoner.
This was to allow for the actual criminal prisoners to be processed and released to make room for the political detainees. To do that, the government planned to “release all inmates in medium and minimum security with less than one year of sentence to serve,” the records note.
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