Frye’s Spies: Documents in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Files on Northrop Frye
Jim Bronskill’s uncovering the security files that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police kept on Frye for a dozen years has been reported in the blog, a story that was picked up by numerous news organizations. The entire episode seemed so unlikely that I felt obliged to get a copy of the files, which I requested from the Library and Archives of Canada and which were kindly provided me. Reading the files is like watching a Beckett play where nameless bureaucrats with not enough serious work to do write memos and shuffle papers around as if their trivial actions were of great moment. One finds oneself laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Still, we do learn something from the security files that we didn’t previously know: the extent of Frye’s involvement with a number of left‑wing committees and organizations precisely at the time he was writing all those critiques of the student protest movement. From the files we discover that Frye was involved, as a sponsor or signatory, with the following:
- Montreal Hemispheric Conference to End the Vietnam War
- Opposition to Trudeau’s invoking the War Measures Act
- International Conference on Racism and War
- Corporation des enseignants du Québec
- International Commission of Inquiry (Vietnam War Tribunal)
- Vietnam Moratorium Committee (Montreal)
- Faculty Committee on Vietnam (University of Toronto)
- Alexander Defence Committee
- International Forum Foundation
- Canadian Committee for Amnesty in Portugal
- International Teach‑in on China
- Canadian teachers opposed to “ the U.S. policy of ‘genocide’ in Vietnam”
- Committee established to aid the students accused of violating the Anti‑subversion Act of 1951
- Toronto Committee on Disarmament
Many of the security files are heavily redacted and some 40 of the 142 pages have been withheld altogether, pursuant to the regulations of the Access to Information Act. But as I read the files, slogging through the deadening bureaucratic prose, there are 39 separate entries. What follows is a brief abstract of each of the 39 entries.
1. Copy of an article by Robin Mathews, “The Americanization of Canada means precisely the takeover of Canadian Culture by U.S. Citizens,” published in Saturday Night, May 1971: 20–22. Mathews’ article opens by quoting and then disagreeing with a statement by Frye in his “Conclusion” to a Literary History of Canada about the growing technological uniformity produced by American culture.
2. Copy of a news article from the Globe and Mail of 13 March 1971 about Frye having been named, along with Duncan Macpherson and Yves Theriault, as recipients of the Canada Council’s Molson Prize.
3. Copy of an unidentified printed document entitled “Profs petition against War Measures Act,” dated 15 March 1971. Frye is listed as one of the twenty prominent Torontonians who were signatories to the petition. The federal Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act on 16 October 1970 in response to the request of the Mayor of Montreal and the Quebec provincial government and in response to general threats and demands made by the Front de libération du Québec. 465 people were arrested and held without charge. The petitioners saw the invoking of the act as a silencing of political dissent and therefore a threat to civil liberties. All three major Toronto newspapers refused to publish the petition.
4. Copy of a RCMP report on the seizing of documents at the residence of someone (the name is blacked out) in connection with the kidnapping of the British Trade Commissioner. The report has two attachments, one refers to the Hemispheric Conference and the other lists the contacts of the document owner. Frye is one of the contacts. The Hemispheric Conference is doubtless the Montreal Hemispheric Conference to End the Vietnam War, held in November 1968.
5. Copy of an article from the Ukrainian Canadian (October 1970), entitled “International Conference on Racism and War.” Frye is listed as one of the sponsors of the conference.
6. Copy of RCMP report, dated 6–7–70, on the International Commission of Inquiry (Vietnam War Tribunal), Montreal, May 1970. The documents lists various organizations and conferences, including Corporation des enseignants du Québec (Teachers Corporation of Quebec), which later became a labor union four years later. Frye’s name is listed as one of the “participants and supporters”––along with John Lennon, René Lesveque, Henry Morganthaler, and Farley Mowat. The comments at the end of this report make clear that the ICI as a part of the peace movement is seen by the RCMP as a propaganda and antinationalist organization.
7. Copy of the translation from the French of a report, dated 14 May 1970, from the Vietnam Moratorium Committee in Montreal. Frye is listed as one of the proposed commissioners for the Comité Moratoire du Vietnam.
8. Copy of a letter, dated 4 December 1969, with an attached “blind memorandum” on the Faculty Committee on Vietnam” at the University of Toronto. At the bottom of the letter Frye’s name is penciled in.
9. Copy of an article by Frye, “Utopia on the Campus,” which appeared in the Globe and Mail Magazine, 13 September 1969, 5–8. This was an abridged form of “The University and Personal Life: Student Anarchism and the Educational Contract,” in Higher Education: Demand and Response (The Quail Roost Seminar), ed. W.R. Niblett (London: Tavistock Publications, 1969), 35–59; (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1970), 35–51.
10. Copy of a RCMP report entitled “Demonstrations and Protests re. U.S. Action in Vietnam,” dated 5 August 1969. Has to do with various activities sponsored by the Vietnam Moratorium Committee. In the material that has not been blacked out, Frye’s name does not appear.
11. Copy of an article by Frye, appearing in the Toronto Star, 9 June 1969, entitled “Student radicals and right‑wingers are all the same.” The article reproduces seven paragraphs from the convocation address Frye gave at York University.
12. Copy of a newspaper article from the Toronto Star, 7 May 1969, “Full-time agitators blamed for unrest,” reporting on the convocation address that Frye gave at Acadia University.
13. Copy of RCMP report, dated 1 May 1969, on the Alexander Defence Committee (ADC). An attachment contains 105 pages of “news bulletins and circulars” regarding the committee. The ADC was formed in February 1965 in response to the persecution of Dr. Neville Alexander and ten of his comrades by the South African government. The eleven were arrested in July 1963 and held eight months in solitary confinement before being indicted and convicted of sabotage. The “sabotage” they were guilty of consisted of having formed study groups to consider various methods of conducting the struggle against apartheid. Frye is listed as one of the sponsors of the Canadian chapter of the ADC.
14. Copy of RCMP report, dated 16 January 1969, listing the members of the University of Toronto administration and faculty on whom the RCMP is maintaining a file. Frye is listed along with others in the English department. The list is said to contain “those persons who have displayed more than a casual interest in the field covered by key sector.” An addendum to the list, dated 16 January 1969 and labeled “SECRET,” contains the chair of the German department, no doubt Barker Fairley, and a Professor of Social Work (both names blacked out).
15. Copy of Frye’s speech, “Our Permanent Revolution,” which appeared in the Vancouver Sun, 14 December 1968. The article is an extract from Frye’s “The Ethics of Change: The Role of the University.” A Symposium: The Ethics of Change (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1969), 44–55.
16. Copy of Frye’s “Student protest . . . has shallow roots,” which appeared in the Toronto Star, 19 September 1968. This is an abridged form of “The Social Importance of Literature” which was published in the Educational Courier 39 (November–December 1968): 19–23; rpt. in On Education, 74–82, and in Northrop Frye Writings on Education, 326–34.
17. Copy of a news story, “Student protest ‘like feminists,’” which appeared in the Toronto Telegram, 17 September 1968. The story begins, “University of Toronto English Professor Northrop Frye today predicted a very short career for the student protest movement and compared it to the now defunct feminist movement at the turn of the century. Dr. Frye spoke to the convention of Association of School Superintendents and Inspectors at the Royal York. About 800 attended.”
18. Copy of “SECRET” memo, dated 12 September 1968, from C.S. Hogg, Officer in Charge of S.I.B. [Special Investigative Branch?]. Para. 2: “No action to be taken which might compromise our source.”
19. Copy of a newspaper editorial from the London [Ontario] Free Press, 1 August 1968, entitled “Intellectual dishonesty showing.” The editorial is about Dr. James Endicott’s heading up a rally in Montreal to protest the Vietnam War––the Hemispheric Conference to End the Vietnam War, 11–14 October 1968. Frye is named one of the sponsors Endicott has lined up.
Par. 3. “There will be possibly useful contributions from such brilliant intellectuals as Dr. Frye and some of his colleagues, which may well be carefully studied by the American administration, but most of the verbal activity will come from the kooky, fuzzy confused pseudo‑intellectuals who hang around the fringes of those who are genuinely oriented to political philosophies well left of centre.”
20. Newspaper article from the Ottawa Citizen, 12 December 1967, entitled “Four men honored for outstanding contributions to Canada.” Frye is one of the four who received a medal and a $2500 cash award from the Canada Council.
21. Copy of RCMP report, dated 9 November 1967, on various activities at the University of Toronto: a tutorial class called “Anatomy of Peace”; a tutorial on civil liberties in Canada; an article in the Varsity (student newspaper) on a teach‑in on “Religion and International Affairs,” sponsored by the International Forum Foundation, of which Frye is an honorary board member.
22. Copy of a flyer from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies and the University Extension Division announcing a Summer Russian Workshop, July 4 to August 25, 1968.
23. Copy of a news story, apparently from the Varsity, 11 September 1967, announcing the teach‑in on “Religion and International Affairs,” described in no. 21, above. The story notes that Frye, again, is a member of the honorary board of the International Forum Foundation.
24. Copy of RCMP report, dated 20 July 1967, about the Canadian Committee for Amnesty in Portugal, which argued for the release of political prisoners in the Salazar regime. Frye is listed on the Conference’s letterhead as a sponsor.
25. Copy of an article in French by Naim Kattan, “Northrop Frye” 10 ans avant la néo‑critique,” which appeared in Le Devoir, 3 June 1967.
26. Copy of RCMP biographical file on Frye. Includes vital statistics. Under “Organizational Affiliation” the report reads, “Participant in the International Teach‑in on China and the U. of T. protest activity in early 1966.” The report contains a fairly complete professional curriculum vitae. The investigator’s comments include the following:
“re Independent Mutual Benefit Federation––Canada [blacked out section] a Stanley Heber [sic] F. KEMP (B.D. 5–5–84) of 205 Fulton Ave., Toronto, had terminated his policy with the Federation. It is believed that this person, which the 1956 Toronto City Directory shows as being a commercial artist, is identical to Stanley H.F. KEMP, father‑in‑law of the file subject.”
“Toronto report dated 3–21–66, which identified FRYE as having circulated a letter, with others, to be sent to the Canadian Federal Government on the question of Canada’s Complicity relative to the War in Vietnam.”
“Toronto reports dated 17 and 31 October 66, wherein subject was identified as being on the Honourary Board of the International Teach‑in on China. Our source felt his participation gave the Teach‑in a note of credibility.”
“Toronto report 27–10–66, which states that Frye delivered a lecture on ‘The Educated Imagination’ on the CBC lecture series. Other notables in this series included G.B. MACPHERSON, [name blacked out], Frank UNDERHILL [name blacked out] and Paul GOODMAN [material blacked out] of the U.S.A. whose ideas appeal to the ‘New Left.’”
The report concludes by saying “At the present time, we are unable to ascertain what the initial “H” stands for in FRYE’S name.”
27. Copy of RCMP transit slip, along with a “SECRET” memo, dated 2 November 1966, regarding Frye, saying that ten extracts are attached and asking for a report in due course.
28. Copy of news article from the Varsity of 19 October 1966, entitled “Frye Studies New Role.” The article, by Marlene Goldlist, is about Frye’s having been appointed a University Professor.
29. Copy of RCMP report, dated 17 October 1966, attaching a number of leaflets and bulletins about the International Teach‑in on China, held at the University of Toronto, 8–16 October 1966. Frye is noted as being a member of the Honourary Board. The investigator remarks in par. 3 of his comments, “It is felt that a very forceful argument can be put forth as a result of this iTi [International Teach‑in] that efforts are being made by certain narrow elements within the academic community to exert influence on the Canadian Government for a change in our foreign policy: particularly respecting our relations with the U.S.A. and in direct reference to our complicity in the Vietnam War and toward our recognition of Red China.” The investigator provides a long commentary on the International Teach‑in.
30. Copy of the RCMP report on the Alexander Defence Committee, dated 1 September 1966. In an attachment entitled “Defend the Victims of Apartheid,” Frye is listed as a sponsor.
31. Copy of a news story in the Varsity, 1 September 1965, entitled “Northrop Frye becomes ‘University Professor.’”
32. Copy of RCMP report, dated 13 July 1966, indicating that the “file subject,” whose name is blacked out, had been employed as Frye’s secretary. Par. 10 of the investigator’s comments: “The subject’s employment [material blacked out] has been confirmed and no doubt this position will afford [name blacked out] an excellent opportunity to observe persons in the University sphere.”
33. Copy of an article from Unity (Jedinstvo), 4 March 1966, indicating that a group of Canadian teachers has “requested Canada to dissociate herself from the U.S. policy of ‘genocide’ in Vietnam.” Frye is listed as one of those who signed the letter.
34. Copy of a RCMP report, dated 18 October 1965, on the Alexander Defence Committee’s showing of a film at the Museum Theatre. Frye’s name is listed as a sponsor in the leaflet advertising the event, a copy of which is attached.
35. Copy of RCMP report, dated 30 September 1965, about a meeting of the Toronto Branch of the League for Socialist Action. At the meeting, a report was given on the Alexander Defence Committee, and Frye is noted as one of the sponsors. The investigator gives a lengthy account of the meeting. A “SECRET” memo attach indicates that “We are not inclined to underestimate the potential for disruption and agitation the League possesses.”
36. Copy of an article by David Bryce in the Varsity, 5 February 1964, about a visit to campus by Tom Morgan, who had been accused, along with two others, of violating the Indiana Anti‑subversion Act of 1951. They had organized a meeting in which one of the speakers had “advocated the use of violence by Southern Negroes in their struggle for civil rights. Frye is listed as one of the faculty members who supports the work of the committee established to aid the Indiana students.
37. Copy of RCMP report, dated 18 November 1963, on a journal called Co‑existence: A Quarterly for the Comparative Study of Economics, Sociology, and Politics in a Changing World. An attachment indicates that Frye had promised to write an article for the journal.
38. Copy of RCMP report, dated 28 September 1960, on S.O.S: Survival or Suicide: Bulletin of the Toronto Committee on Disarmament. An attached copy of issue No. 1 lists Frye as a sponsor.
39. Copy of RCMP “Central Registry Check Sheet” on Frye.