02/21/2013 04:03 EST | Updated 04/23/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP spied on former Liberal minister, economic nationalist Walter Gordon

OTTAWA - RCMP intelligence officers secretly tracked politician Walter Gordon, who waved the flag of economic nationalism as a Liberal cabinet minister and advocate of an independent Canada, newly declassified records show.

The Mounties' security branch analyzed Gordon's political pronouncements, eyed his travels to Communist countries, monitored the outspoken figure's views on the Vietnam War, and compiled copious notes on his family and associates.

The Canadian Press obtained the RCMP's top secret, 272-page file on Gordon, who died in 1987, from Library and Archives Canada under the Access to Information Act. Some portions, though half a century old, were considered still too sensitive to release.

Because he was a federal cabinet minister, Gordon's dossier was among the force's closely held VIP Program files, a collection of 668 highly classified records on politicians, senior public servants, judges and other "high profile" individuals.

In a bid to uncover left-wing radicals and others branded as subversive, RCMP spies monitored a wide array of groups and individuals, from academics and artists to environmentalists and peace groups.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which took over counter-subversion duties from the RCMP in 1984, transferred the records on Gordon to the federal archives. Such files are usually eligible for public disclosure only 20 years after the person's death.

RCMP files on other politicians, including former NDP leaders Tommy Douglas and David Lewis, were also preserved. Many pages from these volumes have been released over the years.

But files on some prominent politicians — including former prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson — were judged to have little archival value and subsequently destroyed.

The Toronto-born Gordon attended private school and enjoyed sports including football and boxing while studying at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. He worked as a chartered accountant in the 1930s and later served with the Bank of Canada and Finance Department.

Gordon made his mark as chairman of the royal commission on Canada's economic prospects in the mid-1950s. He joined the Liberal party under Lester Pearson, serving in cabinet as finance minister and president of the Privy Council in the 1960s.

The Mounties took special interest in Gordon's activities as early as 1948, when his name turned up among those Canadians communicating with the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

During a routine security clearance in 1953, it emerged that Gordon was director of the Canadian-Soviet Friendship Council in 1942-43 — though he indicated on a form that the prime minister had approved his participation.

As late as April 1971, the Mounties were still tugging at that thread, wondering if there were "any other areas of activity which might be of more concern."

Gordon's involvement with the Canadian Institute of International Affairs drew RCMP attention in 1957, in part because the organization's president subscribed to a Communist publication.

Pearson assigned Gordon to oversee a task force on Canadian industry, prompting considerable RCMP interest in the backgrounds of its members.

The Mounties received copies of extensive summaries of Gordon's 1967 visit to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. That same year the RCMP probed the Communist Party's attempt to "take advantage" of Gordon's public denunciation of American policy in Vietnam.

On one occasion, the Mounties somehow learned that Gordon had phoned another influential Liberal suggesting the man pursue charges against the RCMP over a search of his premises "and subsequent harassment" — advice that likely did not endear Gordon to the police force.

A memo notes that Gordon had confided to an unknown party — the source appears to be redacted — that the politician "was certain there were many people in the country who believed that the Communists had a spy, himself, in the cabinet," but the chatter didn't bother him.

"He said that, while he was not a subscriber to the theory of a Communist under every bed himself, he considered it inescapable and perhaps necessary that some took this view, if only so that judgments could be made in light of all the information available," the memo says.

Gordon publicly rejected socialism, telling an audience in 1970 that Canadians didn't want such a system.

The file substitutes ill-informed innuendo for a thoughtful reading of Gordon's beliefs and political approach, said Stephen Azzi, a Carleton University professor of political management who has written a biography of Gordon.

"Gordon himself was a pillar of the Canadian establishment," said Azzi, who once worked at the Defence Department as an intelligence analyst.

"It's just preposterous, these suggestions that somehow he's working on behalf of the Communists, or that he has any connections with the Communists."

After leaving politics, Gordon served as honourary chairman of the Committee for an Independent Canada, intended to counter the increasing American influence above the 49th parallel. The Mounties warned in October 1970 that the fledgling organization had "become a vulnerable target for subversive penetration."

Azzi finds the RCMP assertion ridiculous, saying Gordon spearheaded the committee because he feared socialists were taking over the nationalist movement. "The person who's writing this, I don't even know if they're reading the newspapers."

The Mounties continued to puzzle over Gordon, scrutinizing the loyalty of family members — and what that might say about the former politician — in a secret January 1972 memo.

"The questions raised in this case are certainly constructive ones and when doubts are raised concerning highly influential persons in the key sectors of our society, we are obligated to pursue, if possible, all avenues of investigation to clarify the situation."