Just Watch Us

RCMP Surveillance of the Women's Liberation Movement in Cold War Canada

A remarkable investigation of state spying on women’s liberation during the Cold War.

La description

From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, in the midst of the Cold War and second-wave feminism, the RCMP security service ? prompted by fears of left-wing and communist subversion ? monitored and infiltrated the women?s liberation movement in Canada and Quebec. Just Watch Us investigates why and how this movement was targeted, weighing carefully the presumed threat its left-wing ties presented to the Canadian government against the defiant challenge its campaign for gender equality posed to Canadian society. Based on a close reading of thousands of pages of RCMP documents declassified under Canada?s Access to Information Act and the corresponding Privacy Act, Just Watch Us demonstrates that the security service?s longstanding anti-Communist focus distorted its threat assessment of feminist organizing. Combining gender analysis and critical approaches to state surveillance, Christabelle Sethna and Steve Hewitt consider the machinations of the RCMP, including its bureaucratic evolution, intelligence-gathering operations, and impact, as well as the evolution of the women?s liberation movement from its broad transnational influences to its elusive quest for unity among women across lines of ideology and identity. Significantly, the authors also grapple with the historiographical, methodological, and ethical difficulties of working with declassified security documents and sensitive information. A sharp-eyed inquiry into spy policies and tactics in Cold War Canada, Just Watch Us speaks to the serious political implications of state surveillance for social justice activism in liberal democracies.


"Despite the fragmentary and deceptive nature of state-produced security files, Sethna and Hewitt skillfully navigate the evidentiary record and offer a thorough study about the political anxieties that perpetuated the unjust surveillance of the women's liberation movement in Canada… Institutionalized discrimination has a long and entrenched history in Western democratic nation-states, and Just Watch Us is another important reminder of the RCMP's complicated legacy in Canada. Sethna and Hewitt deserve credit for accessing declassified government files and unearthing records that will support future research in Canadian history, security and surveillance scholarship, and women and gender studies. " Labour / Le Travail

"The authors describe the history of RCMP's security service, highlight women's demand for the reform of restrictive abortion laws, and describe the role of an international women's conference advocating an end to the Vietnam War (which further increased the RCMP's spying activity). After reviewing the heavily censored RCMP files, the authors reflect on the ethical challenges encountered in researching the historical legacy of state surveillance. This volume is an important addition to gender and state security studies. Recommended. " Choice

"[The RCMP] records, obtained in regrettably-eviscerated form by the authors using the Access to Information and Privacy Act (ATIP), is the foundation for this illuminating book. They combine exceptional depth of knowledge about the Canadian women's movement and state surveillance of this country's progressive communities. " The Ormsby Review

"Christabelle Sethna and Steve Hewitt combine their expertise in feminist organizing and the security state to document Royal Canadian Mounted Police surveillance of women's liberation activism from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. The book is a timely addition to the growing international literature on Cold War surveillance of dissent. Their reflections on the ethics of working with declassified documents is an equally important methodological contribution to history and the broader field of surveillance studies. " University of Toronto Quarterly

"Sethna and Hewitt are meticulous and rigorous scholars and Just Watch Us is a serious, methodical, and analytical approach to a complicated historical topic. " Patrizia Gentile, Carleton University

Just Watch Us offre un aperçu très détaillé du modus operandi des services secrets [et] propose une réflexion d’une grande actualité sur l’héritage de ces pratiques dans le cadre d’opérations et de programmes contemporains déployés au nom de l’antiterrorisme et de l’anti-extrémisme.” Clio: Femmes, Genre, Histoire