Dispersing the Fog examines growing political tyranny in Canada

By Paul Palango. Key Porter Books, 544 pp, $32.95, hardcover

The Mounties have fallen on hard times. The national police force has received a black eye over the tasering of Robert Dziekanski, the scandalous handling of officers’ pensions, and the sharing of information with U.S. authorities about Canadian communications engineer Maher Arar, who claimed he was tortured after being deported to Syria.

In Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP, Paul Palango demonstrates how municipalities that contract RCMP services are getting ripped off. He also shows how former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli’s political naiveté and love of perks led to his downfall in 2006.

The most stunning revelations involve Arar’s past as a high-tech worker in cities where the FBI was monitoring Islamists. Palango, onetime Globe and Mail national news editor and author of two other acclaimed books on the RCMP, recounts Arar’s career and movements in such a way that some readers may be left with the shocking suspicion that Arar was in fact an FBI agent assigned to keep radical Muslims under surveillance in Canada and the United States. Palango also raises doubts over whether Arar, who never testified under oath, was tortured in Syria. The Conservative government paid Arar a $12.5-million settlement after a commission of inquiry determined that Arar was tortured and did not pose a threat to national security.

But the real bad guys in Palango’s tale are politicians, including Premier Gordon Campbell and John Les, who have indulged the image-obsessed RCMP. Former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien aren’t spared in connection with the Airbus affair and a torpedoed probe into Chinese espionage.

Following Zaccardelli’s resignation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper installed his national security adviser, veteran bureaucrat William Elliott, as RCMP commissioner. Earlier this year, Palango reports, Elliott planned to create a new position of assistant deputy minister of public affairs, which would vet all public comments by the RCMP. According to Palango’s sources, the job was going to go to Keith Beardsley, who operated a political war room for the prime minister. “In an underhanded fashion, Harper was clearly seeking absolute control over the police,” he writes.

There are a couple of errors in the book. UBC vice president Stephen Owen is misidentified as a former attorney general; deceased businessman Peter Toigo is falsely described as a former cabinet minister. Despite these blunders, Dispersing the Fog is a frightening examination of growing political tyranny in Canada.