RCMP kept watch on French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre

The RCMP kept a close watch on Jean-Paul Sartre, the French essayist and playwright known for his ruminations on existentialism, as part of its effort to identify and keep tabs on left-leaning subversives during the Cold War.

According to files obtained by the Canadian Press, Mounties closely monitored the philosopher’s planned trip to Quebec in 1971, where he was expected to pledge support for people arrested during a crackdown on the radical separatist group, Front de libération du Quebec (FLQ).

The recently declassified documents detail how RCMP interest in Sartre dated back to at least October 1952, when the police agency took note of a speech he delivered to the French Parliament. Through the 1960s, interest in Sartre—who was awarded but refused to accept the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964—mounted as the RCMP learned the Toronto chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and anti-Vietnam war protesters in Quebec wanted the intellectual to travel from Paris to address them.

In 1971, the police agency learned that Sartre planned to attend protests supporting those arrested under the War Measures Act, which Ottawa passed in response to the kidnapping of public officials by the FLQ. Although in the end, Sartre didn’t attend, he appeared via a pre-taped interview from Paris, describing Quebeckers as a colonized people living under an anglophone minority. He added that violence was necessary for the province to achieve socialist independence.

“There are no other solutions: unless we make war, they will,” he said.