RCMP Eyed Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre during Tense Quebec Political Upheaval: RCMP Spies Eyed Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre

By Bronskill, Jim | The Canadian Press, May 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

RCMP Eyed Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre during Tense Quebec Political Upheaval: RCMP Spies Eyed Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre


Bronskill, Jim, The Canadian Press


OTTAWA - Canadian spies closely eyed existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, tracking his planned trip to Quebec in support of people arrested during a crackdown on separatist threats, newly released documents show.

The declassified Royal Canadian Mounted Police dossier on Sartre also reveals that Mountie intelligence officers pored over translations of the French writer's pronouncements, monitored his links to the peace movement and noted the academic rebel's brushes with the law.

The two-volume file, spanning 234 pages, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act from Library and Archives Canada.

Personal files compiled by the RCMP security branch, a forerunner of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, can be made public 20 years after a person's death. Portions of Sartre's file remain secret.

The prolific essayist and playwright is perhaps best known for his thoughts on existentialism, the notion that man has no predetermined nature but defines his essence through belief and actions.

In 1964 he was awarded -- but refused to accept -- the Nobel Prize for literature.

Sartre transcended the rarefied world of political philosophy, becoming a touchstone of popular culture embodied by the chain-smoking hipster ennui of the 1960s.

RCMP interest in Sartre dates from at least October 1952 when the Mounties took note of a speech he had given to the French Parliament.

The RCMP monitored a wide range of groups and individuals during the Cold War in an attempt to identify left-wing subversives.

Memos from the 1960s indicate the Mounties learned from confidential sources that the Fair Play for Cuba Committee's Toronto chapter and Quebec students protesting the Vietnam War wanted Sartre to travel from Paris to address them.

Concern really began stirring in early 1971 with word that Sartre, Irish politician Bernadette Devlin and outspoken actress Jane Fonda would come to Montreal to help protest the trials of people arrested under the War Measures Act.

The federal government ushered in the legislation outlawing the separatist Front de liberation du Quebec in October 1970 following the kidnapping of public officials. …

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