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State Security, Civil Liberty and the Origins of the Canadian Secret Police

David A. Wilson
University of Toronto
Watson Hall 517

Originally formed in the winter of 1864-5 to prevent Canadian-based raids by Southern Confederates on the United States, the Canadian secret police force soon became preoccupied with preventing American-based raids by Fenians on Canada.  Its operations were directed against not only American Fenians, but also their supporters within Canada -- Irish Catholic revolutionaries who planned to support the invaders by such methods as cutting telegraph wires, blowing up bridges, burning down buildings and taking its political leaders hostage.  One of the greatest challenges facing the government was to identify, isolate and undermine the revolutionaries without alienating members of the Irish Catholic community in general.  How did the government and the secret police force respond to that challenge, and what does that response tell us about the relationship between security and liberty in mid-nineteenth century Canada?

David A. Wilson is a Professor in the Celtic Studies Program and the History Department at the University of Toronto, and the General Editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.  He graduated from Queen's University, where two professors in particular played a pivotal role in turning him into something approaching an historian:  George A. Rawlyk, who supervised his doctoral dissertation, and Donald Harman Akenson, who helped him at every step on the way.  A winner of the University of Toronto's Outstanding Teaching Award and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he has written and edited twelve books, including a prize-winning two-volume biography of Thomas D'Arcy McGee and, most recently, Canadian Spy Story:  Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police.  

Department of History, Queen's University

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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.