The RCMP spied on 1970s-era gay activists amid fears of allegations over then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s “homosexual proclivities”, say newly-obtained files. The secret police memos were released under Access To Information.
Mounties kept close surveillance on gay rights advocates described as “hippies” and “revolutionary groups”. Senior government officials planning a May 1, 1971 visit to Vancouver by Trudeau sought confidential files on activists, according to memos.
“We are aware that a total of approximately 39 groups are planning to demonstrate,” the RCMP Security Service wrote in an April 13, 1971 memo: “The more prominent revolutionary youth group involved in the planning of a demonstration at this time is the Gay Liberation Front, a militant ‘hippy’ organization oriented towards homosexuals.”
Trudeau was in Vancouver to greet the Queen and visit his in-laws. Mounties citing confidential sources claimed gay activists would attempt an embarrassing protest.
“The Gay Liberation Front appears to have accurate information concerning the Prime Minister’s itinerary during his planned visit to Vancouver on May 1st,” warned a March 23, 1971 RCMP Telex. “Among other things they are familiar with the location of the microphone which would be used in some meeting place where the Prime Minister is scheduled to speak.”
“The Gay Liberation Front has two plans. They intend to mount a demonstration outside the building where the Prime Minister will speak using placards which will make a number of allegations about the Prime Minister’s homosexual proclivities,” the Telex said. “The second part of the plan contemplates a forced entry to the building where he will speak with the intention of commandeering a microphone or microphones over which they would broadcast a statement of a Marxist nature.”
The report continued, “Source also went on to say that the Gay Liberation Front has a plan to steal buttons from the Hertz Rent-A-Car organization in Vancouver and to change the slogan of the company in such a manner that would be insulting to the Prime Minister.”
Watched Activists’ Homes
The 1971 Gay Liberation Front had only “six hard core members”, according to the RCMP, including students from Simon Fraser University and a weekly columnist for the Georgia Straight. Yet police claimed the group had apparent ties to Marxists, Maoists and the Youth International Party, “a militant structured hippy-type organization which sympathizes with the New Left ideology.”
Trudeau’s visit unfolded without incident. The surveillance memos were requested by the Privy Council Office and deputy solicitor general.
Thousands of pages of files released by Library & Archives Canada detail police monitoring of gay activists through the 1970s including names, addresses, employment histories, financial information and travel plans. Surveillance included the posting of undercover agents outside activists’ homes: “None of our principal Gay Liberation Front members have been observed at various demonstrations although they still reside in the Vancouver area,” the RCMP noted in a November 10, 1971 memo. “Periodic surveillance is maintained on their homes and will be maintained in the future.”
Prime Minister Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality with 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code. The RCMP Security Service was formally disbanded in 1984 following disclosure of illegal activities. John Starnes, director general of the service that maintained the gay files, died last December 23 at age 96.
By Tom Korski