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US Investigation of Canadians During the Second Red Scare, 1953-1957

The early days of the Cold War were characterized by heightened paranoia regarding espionage and subversion. In the United States, this took the form of “McCarthyism”—named after Senator Joe McCarthy—which was an interminable frenzy of investigations into the lives of American citizens and government officials, the purpose of which was to expose and eliminate Communist influence in US politics. Although the USSR certainly did conduct espionage in the United States (and vice versa), McCarthyism has largely been condemned as a series of baseless witch hunts. Lester B. Pearson shared this view,  describing the Second Red Scare as “the black madness of the witch hunt.”

Canada was drawn into the Second Red Scare during the 1940s and 1950s due to close diplomatic ties with the United States and a special relationship between the RCMP and the FBI. There are a few well-known examples of subversion in Canada, including the Gouzenko Affair which involved Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cipher clerk stationed in Ottawa who defected in 1945. Gouzenko’s testimony revealed that a spy ring had been operating in Canada and implicated numerous Canadian Government officials who were then investigated by the RCMP and the newly-established Security Panel. The Gouzenko Affair showed that Canada was committed to helping identify and remove Soviet agents in North America. What Canada was not interested in, however, was being left out of the loop by the Americans.

On multiple occasions during the 1950s the Canadian government concluded that they were being shortchanged by the United States when it came to American investigations of Canadian citizens. The Prime Minister would often find out from the morning newspaper, for example, that a US congressional committee had implicated a Canadian citizen in subversive activities. Canadian government efforts to internally investigate subversive activities were likewise often hamstrung by vague and noncommittal American responses to requests for information regarding Canadian citizens.

Herbert Norman was a Canadian diplomat accused of being a communist, and although the RCMP investigation concluded that Norman did not have ties to the Soviet Union and did not engage in espionage activities, the US Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security would not let the matter go and continuously made allegations against Norman. Norman died by suicide on 4 April 1957 and many Canadians blamed the allegations for his death. The perceived mishandling of the Norman case prompted the Canadian government to send a letter to the US State Department stating that the procedure for investigations needed to change. The Canadian government requested that the United States provide any information gathered regarding Canadian citizens. For the next four months, the Americans stalled and the Canadians made requests for assurances. When the Americans finally offered an official response, they included very few of the assurances that the Canadians sought. The Canadians accepted the response.

The collected documents provide an overview of Canada’s displeasure with the US treatment of information regarding Canadians during their investigations into subversive activities. What steps did Canada take to address what they saw to be an unequal relationship? How did US investigations into alleged subervsion impact Canada-US relations as a whole?