September 5

1945 The Igor Gouzenko Case

In early September 1945, an intelligence officer from the Russian embassy, Igor Gouzenko, and his family tramped around Ottawa for 2 days trying to get the Canadian police, journalists, and officials to believe that he was attempting to defect with proof of a Soviet spy ring operating in Canada.

Igor Gouzenko was born in 1919 at the start of the Russian Revolution and was drafted  into the Red Army during the Second World War. He became a cypher clerk for the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence agency, with a posting in Ottawa where he was to assist in a spy operation led by Colonel Nikolai Zabotin. Gouzenko and his wife were impressed by the freedom and prosperity of Canada and, when summoned back to Moscow, began to think of defecting. With a bundle of documents stolen from the embassy, and his wife carrying their small child, he made the rounds of the RCMP, the Ottawa Journal, and a magistrate’s court in an attempt to win sanctuary. The Mackenzie King government was suspicious and not interested in causing trouble with the Soviets but eventually agreed to take him in.

Gouzenko and his purloined files were able to convince the government that Russian intelligence had penetrated Canadian political and scientific circles in an attempt to gain atomic secrets. The resulting investigation saw 12 suspects, including a Montreal Progressive Labour member of Parliament (Fred Rose, Canada’s only Communist MP), a scientist, bureaucrats (some in the National Film Board) and some army officers arrested. In retaliation, Canada expelled Russian diplomats and removed our ambassador from Moscow until 1953.

Rose was sentenced to 6 years in jail and died eventually in Poland where he had been born; Gouzenko was given a new identity (in public appearances such as the television quiz show Front Page Challenge he always wore a hood) and police protection. He eventually became an author and won a Governor-General’s prize for a 1954 novel. He died in a Toronto suburb in 1982.

The Gouzenko revelations led to further investigations of Soviet spying in the USA and Britain and helped to begin the period of frosty relations known as the Cold War.

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