Maritime songstress Rita MacNeil is seen at a feminist rally during the 1970s.
Popular Maritime singer Rita MacNeil said she had no idea she was under RCMP surveillance during an investigation into the 1970s Canadian feminist movement.
In an interview with CTV Newsnet from her home in Big Pond, N.S., MacNeil called the investigation "a little bit silly."
Two historians recently uncovered files showing RCMP spies infiltrated the women's liberation movement in Canada. Investigators conducted undercover surveillance on marches and rallies, and compiled biographical sketches on some participants, including MacNeil.
"It was a time of awareness and women fighting for specific causes that meant a lot to us," such as daycare and equal pay for the same job, said MacNeil. "As far as my part, I wrote a lot of songs."
Her album 'Born a Woman' reflects the songs of that period, she added.
One of the uncovered RCMP reports from a March 1972 meeting of feminist groups in Winnipeg stated MacNeil attended the event with a group called the Toronto Women's Caucus. The report's undercover source noted MacNeil composed women's lib songs.
"I was there to learn about the rights of women and the rights of men, and what we should do together to better the world," said MacNeil of her involvement in the movement.
She added that she is taking news of the investigation in stride.
"I don't know how else to take it. All I can do is laugh."
Steve Hewitt, a Canadian who works at the University of Birmingham in England, was one of two historians who uncovered the recently declassified RCMP files.
In an interview from Ottawa, Hewitt told CTV Newsnet he was conducting research with women's studies colleague Christabelle Sethna into the relationship between gender and security when the pair stumbled upon files from the investigation that contained MacNeil's name.
"I was surprised to see Rita MacNeil's name mainly because I didn't know that she had been involved in feminist groups in the early '80s," said Hewitt. At first he wasn't sure the file was referring to the Canadian singer, but research confirmed that it was.
"They were being spied on because at the time they were perceived to be very radical," added Hewitt about the feminist groups.
Hewitt, who has written extensively on security and intelligence, explained that the RCMP didn't have a clear mandate on what they were doing during the investigation of feminists at the time, and didn't have a clear idea of what subversion was.
He added that the Mounties downplayed the significance of the feminist groups because they were more familiar with investigating male protest groups.
"When you look at Canadian society, the way it has changed over the last 40 years, it has changed dramatically, especially when it comes to gender relations and these women's groups are largely responsible for that," said Hewitt. "The police didn't perceive that this change was coming about because they weren't looking in that direction basically."
The FBI was conducting similar surveillance of feminist groups in the United States at the same time, added Hewitt.
I just found this sorta funny, as I wasn't expecting this in my travels.
And besides, people seem to be wanting me to post some light hearted news