Clandestine Operations: The Vancouver Women's Caucus, the Abortion Caravan, and the RCMP

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In 1969, the reform of the Criminal Code legalized contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts between consenting adults. Yet the conditions under which legal abortion was now permissible were so restrictive that the new abortion law provoked widespread discontent. One women's liberation group, the fledging Vancouver Women's Caucus (VWC), outlined a plan to travel to Ottawa between February and May 1970 in an Abortion Caravan to protest the new law. The caravan's central feature was a van bearing a coffin filled with coat hangers to represent the deaths of women from botched abortions. Declassified RCMP files reveal that the Mounties were spying on the VWC and tracking the Abortion Caravan on its journey from Vancouver to Ottawa. An analysis of these files shows that the VWC, like other women's liberation groups, was targeted for surveillance because the RCMP was extremely concerned about women's liberation groups' real and putative connections to left-wing organizations. Indeed, the RCMP's approach to women's liberation groups was a crucial component of the climate of fear of subversion so prevalent during the Cold War. However, the files also reveal that RCMP surveillance of the VWC proved to be a major challenge because of the complex gendered nature of the force's surveillance of women's liberation groups. Ultimately, the files point to the importance of studying the ways in which state security interests intersect with variables such as gender, class, race, and sexual orientation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-496
JournalThe Canadian Historical Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2009