Saturday, August 09, 2008


Have a look at the sweet and jolly person to the left. Can you think of anyone less likely to be involved in a "conspiracy against national security". Well, probably not, even though Rita MacNeil has been a long standing holder of left wing view. It was, however, her early feminist views, before she became an established singer, that drew the attention of Canada's spooks. Yup, that's the Rita who wrote such hits as 'Flying on Your Own', 'Born a Woman','Working Man' and 'She's Called Nova Scotia'. Since 1986 Rita has operated a tearoom!!! in her home island of Cape Breton. This is obviously a hotbed of subversion. Here's an item from the Canadian Press, dutifully reproduced at the Autonomy and Solidarity site, and, once more dutifully reproduced here at Molly's Blog. Read the following for its comic effect if nothing else. To see more about Rita, see the lyrics of her songs and download her music see her official site.

The RCMP Spied on Early Feminist Organizing:
Rita MacNeil, who went on to become a popular singer, was named in an RCMP document on a 1972 feminist gathering, Feminist singer of 'women's lib songs,' among dozens under scrutiny in early '70s.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press, August 5, 2008
OTTAWA–RCMP spies infiltrated the women's movement in the early 1970s, monitoring marches and rallies to keep an eye on feminists including Rita MacNeil, who would become a much-admired Maritime songstress.

An undercover source reporting on a March 1972 gathering of women's liberation groups in Winnipeg compiled biographical sketches of several delegates, noting MacNeil was in attendance from the Toronto Women's Caucus.

"She's the one who composes and sings women's lib songs," says the RCMP memo, portions of which remain secret.

MacNeil, who lent her musical talents to the feminist cause before turning to music full-time, was among dozens of women from across the country who came under Mountie scrutiny, new research reveals.

The entertainer was not immediately available for comment, nor was her manager.

Historians Steve Hewitt, a Canadian lecturer at the University of Birmingham in England, and Christabelle Sethna, of the University of Ottawa, sifted through hundreds of pages of declassified files detailing the RCMP Security Service's interest in women's groups that began flowering in the late 1960s.

Hewitt, a long-time chronicler of RCMP intelligence efforts, and Sethna, who specializes in women's studies, married their respective academic interests in jointly delving into the little-explored subject.

They have collaborated on three papers describing a strange collision of worlds in which the highly regimented and male-dominated RCMP security branch struggled to understand a new generation of women who shunned traditional female roles to agitate for equal pay, sex education in schools and access to abortion.

It has long been known that the now-defunct Security Service spied on a vast array of groups – from trade unionists to student associations – during the Cold War with the aim of gauging the potential threat from left-wing subversives, possibly linked to hostile foreign powers.

The force opened the file "Women's Liberation Groups – Canada" on May 13, 1969.

The Mounties pored over pamphlets, position papers, announcements and meeting minutes. They also relied on informants – females by necessity at closed-door meetings, but either male or female spies at open sessions.

Founded in May 1970, the Toronto Women's Caucus, and its office on Adelaide St. W., was controversial from its inception.

The RCMP amassed thousands of pages worth of surveillance records on groups like the women's caucus, Sethna told the Star's Brett Popplewell yesterday.

"There were three ways they were spying," she said.

"One would be on the ground taking photographs and noting down names, (another) was through informants and the other way was through open sources like the newspapers" that were reporting on the groups' actions.

The Star's archives refer to the Women's Caucus as "a militant women's liberation group," after it became vocal in the media during the 1971 census when it protested that men were registered as the heads of households.

In March 1971, the Star reported two of the caucus's founding members quit the group, alleging "a male-oriented radical socialist movement" of Trotskyites (love that good OLD Trot entrism-Molly)had taken over the women's group.

Sethna said the Toronto Women's Caucus along with other Toronto-based groups like the New Feminists lasted just a short time in the 1970s and then disbanded.

While the Mounties recognized the various feminist groups were out to "stop so-called exploitation of women," as one officer put it, the force was much more concerned about the apparent infiltration of the movement by avowed Communist interests.

"They were more interested in the political angles and whether these were leftists that were involved in these groups," said Hewitt, author of Spying 101, about RCMP surveillance of Canadian university campuses over the decades.

"And meanwhile there's this really dramatic social change going on almost right under the noses of the police."

The memo on the Winnipeg conference describes one session as "consisting of about one hundred sweating uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing."

Women's groups emerging from the New Left rejected standard notions of leadership as elitist, turned public protest into playful performances, took issue with capitalism and dismissed conformist ideas of middle-class femininity, the authors note.

The Mounties, used to keeping tabs on organizations run by men, didn't know quite what to make of the long-haired women in scruffy blue jeans.

"They were at a loss to understand their strategies, their goals, their tactics," said Sethna.
Rita's Songs

Here's a couple of items, lyrics to some of Rita's songs. The first is a tribute to the Cape Breton Island coal miners.

Working Man


It’s a working man l am

And I’ve been down under ground

And I swear to God if l ever see the sun

Or for any length of time I can hold it in my mind

I never again will go down under ground

At the age of sixteen years

Oh he quarrels with his peers

Who vowed they’d never see another one

In the dark recess of the mines

Where you age before your time

And the coal dust has heavy on your lungs
At the age of sixty-four

Oh hell greet you at the door

And hell gently lead you by the arm

Through the dark recess of the mines

Oh hell take you back in time

And hell tell you of the hardships that were had
Chorus(Repeat Chorus)(Repeat Chorus)
God I never again will go down under ground

Here's another one with a bit more of a feminist bent. Take notes CSIS. Go to the Rita MacNeil site mentioned above for all the lyrics of all her songs.

You were never more strong girl

You were never more alone

Once there was two,

now there's Just you

You're flying on your own

You were never more happy girl

You were never oh so blue

Once heartaches begin Nobody wins

You're flying on your own


And when you know the wings you ride

Can keep you in the sky

There isn't anyone holding back you

First you stumble, then you fall

You reach out and you fly

There isn't anything that you can't do

You were never more wise girl

You were never more a fool

Once you break through

It's all up to you

You're flying on your own

You were never more together

You were never more apart

Once pieces of you

were all that You knew

You're flying on your own


Repeat Chorus


Grokodile said...


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Larry Gambone said...

What bloody morons. At that time the CP didn't know what to make of the Women's Movement any more than the cops. Same goes for the student movement.

mollymew said...

Hi larry,
I hope Rita can make a song out of it. If I suggest the title it would be "You Can Get Anything You Want at Rita's Restaurant".(do a breath take after 'Rita's"). Love that "intelligence". While I agree that most of the spooks' actions are bullshit paper-pushing; a similar amount of the overblown calls to 'Revolution' are just as much bullshit on the other side. The two sides feed off each other