Originally published February 18 2016.
A few days ago I wrote about Harry’s 1950 showdown with the Law Society Benchers, who demanded Harry refute any ties to Communism or the Communist Party before being called to the bar. That particular chapter of Harry’s life seemed to be from such a distant era: a world where a person’s political beliefs could jeopardize their career seemed a grossly unjust reality of 1950. Freedom of speech, and political expression, would not be protected in Canada until the Charter came into effect in 1982.
Revisiting this chapter of Harry’s life got me thinking about how much change occurred in Canada throughout Harry’s lifetime. Far more importantly, however, was realizing how, since Harry’s death, things may have actually reverted to how they once were in a bygone era.
One piece of Harry’s story that I’ve always been fascinated by was the RCMP’s thirty-year covert surveillance of him – a project that continued well after he’d become an elected official. If you’ve watched our demo video for the documentary, you’ll know that Harry’s son Phil did an access request to obtain the files to see what exactly the RCMP (and later CSIS) achieved in their pursuit. The answer: not a whole lot. Phil ended up with an enormous box overflowing with reports. While the files are still redacted in parts, they do reveal that RCMP officers had infiltrated the Rankin home, and were reporting on meetings and functions – none of which indicated any dangerous plots to overthrow government (a conclusion assumed by officers as a result of Harry’s unpopular political opinions and associations). The amount of money and resources wasted on trailing Harry is mind-boggling. Certainly not something that could occur now…
… except it could, under our last federal government’s mammoth Bill C-51- now the Anti Terrorism Act. For those unfamiliar with this legislation, the BC Civil Liberties Association has succinctly summarized C-51’s largest threats to freedom of speech and political expression, including drastically increasing government’s discretion to target individuals for further security scrutiny (see full article here). While our new government has pledged to repeal some of the most offensive portions of C-51, we have yet to see any action.
So if you find yourself tweeting an unpopular political opinion one evening, and suddenly finding an unmarked police car parked outside your door the next morning, then you’ll have more in common with Harry Rankin than you thought!