was urging the defeat of the revolutionary Red
army and the Allies had expeditionary forces in Russia. Among the
Canadian force was a volunteer cavalry unit of Royal Northwest
The pressure of the labor movement in all Allied
countries overrode Churchill that same year and Canada's force was
sent home. The RNWMP had done no more than make a few patrols out of
Vladivostok. They were gratified, nevertheless, to see a crowd on
the Vancouver wharf carrying banners that said:
welcome home returning heroes.
As they stepped down the gangplank a man tossed
a brick, the signal for a barrage of stones. The crowd, the Mounties
learned later, were longshoremen. They had read in the newspapers
that the RNWMP had been sent home to suppress strikes in western
Canada. The welcome signs, it turned out, were for the Seaforth
Highlanders, who had just come back from France.
The episode was a portent of things to come.
Labor unions in the West were hotbeds of discontent. A depression
was shaping up, magnifying legitimate grievances. Soldiers were
coming home to swell the ranks of the unemployed. The Rus-sion
Revolution, now a success, was held up as a shining example by
radicals everywhere. In every labor hall from Vancouver to Winnipeg,
left-wingers flung fiery words of revolution into an inflammatory
At a Calgary convention early in 1919, rebels
from the Trades and Labor Council launched the One Big Union. Their
intention was to take over the craft unions (carpenters',
machinists', and so forth) and to raise upon their defunct bodies
one single colossus. Then, by means of a general strike, they could
gain control of the country and set up a "Proletarian Dictatorship"
patterned after Russia.
The Royal Northwest Mounted Police was a federal
force, responsible for the peace of the prairies and the Northwest.
(Next year, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they would serve
all Canada.) To find out if the One Big Union plotted violence they
planted undercover men in almost every local.
Corporal (later Assistant Commissioner) Frank
Zaneth was a typist for a leader of the 1919 general strike in
Winnipeg. An organizer from the Industrial Workers of the World, a
revolutionary U.S. union, visited strike headquarters to check on
progress. "What's wrong with your Canadian intelligence?" he asked.
"Don't they ever bother you?"
"No," said Zaneth's boss, "they're half asleep."
The great strike effort in Winnipeg failed in
June 1919, and Zaneth's testimony helped convict seven leaders of
sedition. An OBU leader then went to Moscow to try to get support
from the newly formed Communist International. His failure was to
doom the OBU to insignificance and its place on labor's far-left
flank was seized by a group with more taste and talent for
In 1921, in a barn near Guelph, Ontario, a
meeting of left-wing socialists, including OBU leaders, was arranged
by a Latvian using the name of Charles Scott. Scott was one of the
three men who composed the Pan American Bureau, voice of the
Communist International in North America. That night, with three
thousand dollars he had brought for the purpose, he founded the
Canadian Communist Party.
It was the great misfortune of the party that
two years earlier John Leopold had joined the Mounted Police.
Leopold was an Austrian emigrant, a homesteader from Peace River who
spoke four languages. No Mountie ever looked less the romantic
figure of fiction than this swarthy hooknosed man with the
melancholy brown eyes. He was so short he would not have been
accepted in the force if he had not been volunteering for Siberian
service with the RNWMP cavalry unit. Just before he was to sail, his
inspector called him in and told him he had been picked — because of
his background — to carry out an undercover mission. He was to
penetrate the OBU in Regina.
Constable Leopold vanished from the police
barracks. He reappeared as Jack Esselwein, a house painter, a man
with a little income from a Peace River farm, an occasional lucky
dabbler in grain futures. He joined the Painters' Union. He seemed
an ardent, eloquent, willing socialist. Soon he was prominent in the
Shortly after the Communist party was formed,
Jack Esselwein, in Regina, received a letter.
The urgent need in Canada for a militant
Worker's party which would unite the working masses ... so as to
lead towards the overthrow of the capitalist system, and the
establishment of the workers republic has long been apparent . . .
You, Comrade, as an active worker in the class
struggle, have, we are certain, felt this need. You have wished that
such a party be established ... so that you could throw all your
energies into the work. Now, such a party is actually here in
Canada. . . .
The letter was signed M. (Mike) Popovich on
behalf of the Provisional Organization Committee. It went on to say
that "Comrade Jack Macdonald, one of the best speakers in the east"
would be coming West to organize the party. Would Esselwein hire a
hall, arrange and advertise the meetings?
It was a priceless opportunity. The Mountie
became the party's first secretary in Regina. He chaired meetings,
recruited members, sold pamphlets. He was campaign manager for a
Regina alderman who became the first Communist elected to office in
North America. For a time — the worst time — Leopold acted as
bodyguard for the Moscow agent, Charles Scott. They shared the same
bed, the policeman constantly fearful of talking in his sleep.
Soon he reported to his RCMP superiors that the
party was really two groups, A and Z. A group was the Workers'
Party. It was the legal front; it did the recruiting. Z group
contained the leaders. It did the plotting, mainly plans to
infiltrate unions and widen their membership.
Leopold was a Z. The inner circle held no
secrets from him. He corresponded with national secretary Jack
Macdonald and drank with him or Tim Buck, another Communist bigwig,
whenever they came to town. Twice a week, through an undercover
contact, he would send the RCMP his notes, party pamphlets and
copies of personal correspondence. Jack Esselwein became a
well-known radical, a marked man with the western police. Only four
or five RCMP officers — the direct chain of command from Leopold's
Regina inspector to the commissioner in Ottawa — knew Esselwein's
real identity. His non-Communist friends forsook him. His bewildered
fiancee, a Saskatchewan schoolteacher, tried to persuade him to quit
Communism. Leopold could not tell her who he was and eventually she
married another man. (Leopold never married.)
With party members and leaders he was popular.
He gave his money generously. Once a month a messenger brought him
his Mounted Police pay in cash. If party funds were tight he would
pay his own way to eastern conventions. At dawn, hours after the
other delegates had gone to bed, Leopold would sit up scribbling his
notes. In Ottawa, a great mass of material was collecting in the
secret files marked "Agent 30."
For eight years Leopold led this amazing double
life. In 1924 the Workers' Party boldly merged with Z group as the
Communist Party of Canada. In the spring of 1926 Leopold went to
Winnipeg, then moved on to Toronto. He held no official position but
he was a trusted confidant of all party leaders. Once he was
arrested for taking part in a demonstration in front of the U.S.
His exposure came by chance and well offstage.
In the autumn of 1927 a Communist organizer, Malcolm Bruce, formerly
of Regina, was working in California. At a party one night he got
into a conversation on spies with another ex-Regina resident. This
man mentioned a Mountie who vanished one day from barracks and later
turned up as Jack Esselwein.
"Where did you hear that story?" Bruce exclaimed
incredulously. "Why, Jack Esselwein's one of my best friends. He
painted my house. He's been in the party longer than I have."
The story had come from an ex-Mountie now living
in California, a suitor of the informant's daughter. The ex-Mountie
confirmed it when Bruce talked to him. Badly upset, Bruce wrote to
party leader Jack Macdonald in Toronto. As Macdonald later recalled
the letter, Bruce stated the facts, then added: "Jack has been like
a brother to me. I have never had the least cause to suspect his
sincerity. But an investigation should be made either to clear
Esselwein of suspicion or to clear the party of Esselwein."
Macdonald, a shrewd black-browed Scot, also
doubted the story. But Leopold, from then on, was under observation.
For six months nothing confirmed their suspicions. Leopold continued
to attend meetings, to drop into headquarters and help wrap bundles
of the Communist weekly,
Then came his second piece of bad luck. An
immigrant from Austria — we will call him Karl, though that is not
his name — visited Leopold in Toronto. Karl was neither a Communist
nor an old friend, merely a mechanic who had worked on Leopold's car
for a brief time in Regina. He was in Toronto to try to sell an
invention; he had no money, and he gave Leopold a hard-luck story.
Leopold offered to let him share his apartment for a few days.
Only Karl and Leopold know what happened. It is
possible that Karl had suspected Leopold in Regina. It is certain he
searched Leopold's apartment during his stay, which stretched into
weeks. In any case, in May 1928, Leopold asked him to leave. Karl
countered with a veiled threat of blackmail and Leopold departed for
a union convention with the matter still unsettled.
Macdonald and several comrades had gone to the
station to see him off. They noticed that he was troubled and
preoccupied. Karl ran up as they came out of the station. "Has Jack
left?" he asked excitedly.
"He's gone," Macdonald said. "What's wrong? You
both seem upset."
Karl evaded the question. Next day he approached
Macdonald and nervously asked to see him alone.
They talked in Leopold's apartment. Karl said he
had a secret worth thousands of dollars to Russia. No, it was not an
invention, it was information. He was very mysterious.
Finally Macdonald said, bluffing: "You can't
sell me anything. I already know. Jack Esselwein is a government
Karl's expression showed that he had guessed
right. "I've known for a long time," said Macdonald, "but we can't
get anything on him."
'Then I help you," Karl said. He opened
Leopold's trunk and showed Macdonald several papers: reports on the
Communist party, the deed of a Peace River farm in the name of John
Leopold, a bank draft receipt for 3000 crowns sent to Mrs. M.
Leopold, his mother, in Europe, and a letter of introduction from a
prominent Regina citizen to R. B. Bennett, Conservative leader in
Ottawa, saying that "Jack Esselwein" was doing work of which any
patriot should be proud.
Macdonald called a meeting of the party's
political bureau. A few days later, by letter, Leopold was expelled.
As Communists wrapped the following week's
Worker they joked that Jack should be
there to wrap the issue carrying his picture. Communist papers all
over North America warned workers to watch for this "government
stoolpigeon," to let his picture "sink deeply into your minds . . .
and if you ever run into this bird . . . treat him accordingly."
Leopold's revelations made Communist aims and
methods clear from the outset to both the Canadian and U. S.
governments. His personal knowledge of party leaders gave the RCMP a
tactical advantage in the long cold war that was entering a critical
phase. Whenever it was necessary to arrest or identify Communists,
his mass of evidence made it possible.
But this came later. In 1928 Leopard received
many threatening letters and Commissioner Cortlandt Starnes thought
it wise to send him north to Fort Simpson. The following year Jack
Macdonald, in turn, was expelled from the party — for disagreeing
with Moscow-made policy. Tim Buck, who had trained in Moscow, took
his place. Depression struck, and the Communists' great chance came.
They organized strikes, kindling violence where they could, creating
bitterness, a proper state of mind for revolution.
The bloody riot they sparked at Stratford,
Ontario, in July 1931 snapped the patience of Ontario's Attorney
General William Price. On August 11 he ordered a raid on Tim Buck's
house and headquarters. Nine leaders were charged with seditious
conspiracy and Leopold was recalled from the north.
In Leopold's strange career there is no more
dramatic moment then his entrance into the courtroom in Toronto. The
silence was broken only by the tinkling of his spurs as he took his
place as the Crown's chief witness. In the red serge dress uniform
of an RCMP sergeant he sat for three days facing the men who had
been his closest friends.
The defense tried to show that the grievances
which led to strikes arose from the capitalist system, that the
Communists did not create them. "We [only] seek to organize the
workers to resist grievances," Tim Buck testified. Violence, if it
came, would come from capitalist resistance.
Leopold identified documents linking the party
in Canada to Moscow's International. He identified letters sent by
the International that clearly defined its aims:
This conquest does not mean peacefully capturing
the ready-made bourgeois state machinery by means of a parliamentary
majority ... [it means] the violent overthrow of bourgeois power,
the destruction of the Capitalist State apparatus, bourgeois armies,
police, and judiciary, parliaments, etc.
Leopold also threw light on Communist methods.
One party pamphlet plainly spelled out the use of codes, ciphers,
secret inks, couriers ("the party must make use of the connections
which they have with post and telegraph and railway servants") and
defense corps trained in street fighting. "Our comrades," the
pamphlet's author complained, "don't know how to throw stones. It is
not enough to pick up a stone and throw it, it is important that the
stone should hit its target, and not merely hit its target but that
some effect should be seen from the blow." Communists, the pamphlet
suggested, should practice stone throwing after work.
The jury, mostly working men, took only two
hours to find all eight Communists guilty of what the judge called
"a species of treason." They went to Portsmouth Penitentiary for two
to five years. But the party was never legally outlawed. The very
next month, August 1931, four organizers from the Workers' Unity
League, all card-holding Communists, were stirring up trouble among
striking miners in the open-pit coal mines at Estevan, Saskatchewan.
The Estevan town council had banned any strike
demonstrations. An undercover agent tipped off the RCMP that the
strikers planned to parade in defiance of the edict. A parade would
give the Communists a chance to rouse mob action. The Regina
division dispatched one squad of thirty men to the mines and one of
twelve to the town some miles away.
The Communists outgeneraled them. The larger
squad arrived at the mines as the strikers were entering town in a
mile-long motorcade of cars and trucks. The strikers were in holiday
mood, waving at the women who came to the doors to watch them pass.
But, for a peaceful "parade/' they were strangely equipped: ax
handles, crowbars, bricks, stones, flails of electric cable strung
with barbed wire and weighted with lead babbitts.
The twelve Mounties and two town police blocked
the main street in a thin line. The leading truck, a red flag waving
from it, darted down a side street to come in from behind. A guffaw
went up from the strikers and their families, who had dismounted.
Suddenly a second truck speeded up and crashed
the police line. Men jumped out and came running back, led by an
organizer, Martin Day. "Come on, boys!" Day shouted. "Into them!"
Estevan's police chief, Alex McCutcheon, stood
his ground. "Get out of town before you start trouble," he said.
Day hit him with a piece of wood. A Mountie
grabbed Day. The fight was on.
The jeering mob of some five hundred strikers
forced the fourteen policemen back along the wide flat main street.
Occasionally the crowd would press in and surround one policeman
till the others, flailing out with their batons, rescued him. With
their guns still holstered the Mounties fell back to the town hall.
Here they formed a semicircle, trying with their
batons to hold the mob at bay. Slowly they were forced back against
the town hall wall. One Mountie's arm was shattered by a blow from a
flail. A flying brick fractured another's skull. As he fell the
strikers pulled him out of the line and began to kick him. The
nearest Mounties dragged him back. There were only eight Mounties
still standing, tunics in tatters. Flying missiles filled the air
and the mob was closing in.
Staff Sergeant Walter Mortimer, his left arm
dangling uselessly from a blow by a giant iron washer, looked down
his line of bleeding men and told them to draw their guns. "Go
back!" he yelled at the mob. "Don't be fools." A woman laughed
hysterically. "Shoot me!" she cried, throwing up her hands. A
striker pulled a revolver from his pocket and fired at the Mounties.
"Fire over their heads!" Mortimer shouted. Ten
shots, all high, were fired. The strikers fell back at once. No one
In the meantime the Estevan fire truck had
pulled up. Firemen began unreeling their hose to turn it on the
crowd. A group of strikers rushed the truck; one jumped on the
driver's seat. A revolver cracked and he toppled over dead. Several
more shots were fired. The provincial enquiry that followed did not
determine who had fired them.
When the second RCMP squad arrived it was over.
At the sight of the .303 rifles the mob that remained melted away.
The fighting had lasted forty-five minutes. Twelve people were in
hospital, including two bystanders — a music teacher and a visitor
from England — both wounded by stray bullets. The music teacher
swore a striker had shot him. Two miners were dead and another was
to die later in hospital. The responsibility for their deaths could
not be fixed.
An editorial in the
St. Catherines Standard declared: "The
strikers gained nothing by their attempted parade except two
funerals — not a very fruitful day's work for the agitators." The
editorial was only half right. The strikers had gained nothing but
the Communists had three martyrs. Every year thereafter they
commemorated the "murders" by parading from the mines to Estevan.
They made skillful use of the tragedy in their long-term campaign to
undermine public confidence in the Mounties. As far west as
Vancouver they organized the workers and unemployed in protest
meetings against "the brutal and unwarranted attack by Royal Mounted
Police on a peaceful miners' motor car parade."
For the next few years the most fertile field
for Communist activity was the relief camps set up by Prime Minister
R. B. Bennett. One of the sharpest skirmishes took place in the
Saskatoon camp, a huge converted grandstand outside the city. During
April 1933 there was sporadic trouble. Camp officials were
terrorized. Downtown store windows were smashed. Two city policemen
were beaten up. Near the end of the month the Saskatchewan
government called in the Mounties.
The RCMP had been expecting the call; they had
undercover men in the camp keeping tabs on their old adversaries,
the Red agitators. For several weeks a troop of thirty-two men had
been drilling their mounts in combat tactics on the prairies.
The Mounties stood guard in shifts in front of
the main camp building, where the government stores were kept. Every
day an agitator would gather a crowd round the Mountie. "Who's
getting rich on your sweat?" he would yell. "Who's getting rich
while your families can't get enough to eat? Prime Minister Bennett
— Iron Heel Bennett! And who's protecting Bennett and his crowd?"
The agitator would lean forward until his face and the Mountie's
were no more than six inches apart. "This yellow-striped bastard!"
The Mountie would turn away stiffly as if he
hadn't heard. But afterward one constable said, "I had to steel
myself. We were under strict orders to take it. But I tell you, it
makes your guts turn over."
On the seventh of May, Inspector Lome Sampson
planned to move fifty men, including the agitators, from the
overcrowded Saskatoon camp to a camp near Regina. His undercover men
warned him the move would be resisted; the Communists had men
collecting stones, bricks and broken cement. Sampson and G. M.
Donald, Saskatoon police chief, decided to use surprise; they would
pick up the fifty men at noon next day in the dining hall. In case
of trouble, Mounties on horseback would cover the men on foot.
In the stables that morning Sampson inspected
his men. "Remove steel helmets," he said tersely. "Replace with
Stetsons. I don't wish to leave any impression of militarism with
the public." He inspected their sidearms. "Now take the ammunition
out of your guns and put it in your left breast pocket. If your
life's in danger use your gun — if you can load it in time."
The troop rode through the camp's main gate to
the end of the camp grounds, then wheeled. They could see a crowd in
front of the dining hall. Policemen came out with the men they were
trying to move. Suddenly they were swallowed up by the crowd.
Inspector Sampson raised his hand and his troop
galloped down the field. A hail of missiles met them. Sampson's
horse was struck on the head. Half blind with blood, the horse
reared up, throwing Sampson backwards. One foot caught in a stirrup.
The horse bolted. Sampson's body went bumping along behind. Two of
his troop raced after him but before they could catch the horse,
Sampson's head hit a telephone pole. He died on the way to the
The Mounties on horseback scattered the crowd
but the fighting continued, guerrilla-style, all over the buildings
and grounds until 11:30 that night. Though dozens of men were
injured the Mounties had suffered the only fatality.
All through 1934 the Communists spread leaflets
through the relief camps. By next spring RCMP undercover agents were
reporting what Defense Minister Grote
Stirling publicly called "a widespread and
well-organized plot [to] . . . attempt destruction of camps
Two months later nine hundred men — including
RCMP secret agents — marched out of a camp in British Columbia. They
briefly occupied the Vancouver post office, then headed east for
Ottawa by commandeering freight trains. They stopped at Kamloops,
Calgary, Medicine Hat, Swift Current and Moose Jaw. Other relief
camps emptied to join them. The railways were afraid to resist and
most citizens were sympathetic.
At Regina's exhibition grounds, meals and
shelter awaited the marchers. The Saskatchewan government wanted to
pass them through the province quickly. Nor did the federal
government wish to antagonize them. But the RCMP commissioner, Major
General James MacBrien, former chief of Canada's general staff,
warned his minister that the Communists were raising an army of
camp-workers, unemployed, and small-time criminals to reinforce the
marchers at Winnipeg. The same pattern was planned for eastern
cities. This, MacBrien stated, was the prelude to revolution.
Two cabinet ministers came to Regina to reason
with Arthur "Slim" Evans, the tall, gaunt, dour but persuasive
ex-miner who led the march. Evans would not agree to billet his men
in temporary camps till a government commission examined relief camp
conditions. He and seven other leaders were taken by Pullman to
Ottawa to discuss terms with Prime Minister Bennett.
The last thing Evans wanted was a peaceful
Repeatedly he called Bennett a liar. The
millionaire Prime Minister, losing his temper, reminded Evans that
he was a "jailbird," convicted of embezzling union funds at
Drum-heller. Retorted Evans: "You aren't fit to be Prime Minister of
a Hottentot village." In a foregone conclusion Bennett ordered
Commissioner MacBrien to stop the march at Regina.
Evans, back in Regina, swore he was going on to
Ottawa in spite of all "Bennett's bloody Cossacks" (the Mounties).
His force had now swelled to two thousand men, divided into
divisions of about five hundred each. The divisions were broken into
companies of twenty-five, each with a leader. They marched in fours
like an army. The Communists — officials of a front group called the
Relief Camp Workers' Union — had complete control.
Evan's next move was to order a mass Dominion
Day meeting in Regina's Market Square. Undercover reports to the
RCMP told of piles of stones being cached in alleys. Elevator
operators were taking bricks to the roofs of buildings bordering the
square. The camp workers were arming themselves with clubs, knives
and flails, a few guns.
Saskatchewan's top-ranking Mountie, Assistant
Commissioner S. T. Wood, asked the camp leaders to call off the
meeting. Evans was adamant. Wood and the city police decided to
seize all the leaders on the day before the meeting. But Evans and
his lieutenants, wise strategists of intrigue, had disappeared from
their usual haunts and remained hidden till the meeting.
Wood, hastily switching plans, sent plainclothes
Mounties and city detectives to mingle with the crowd in the square.
Nearly a thousand people clustered around a
raised platform on which stood Evans and several other leaders. The
evening was warm and the sun had not yet gone down. A speaker began
to talk. At 8:17 a police whistle shrilled. Eighteen detectives
pushed toward the men on the platform. Vans drove up and unloaded
seventy-five Mounties in uniform. They walked toward the crowd to
protect the detectives.
Immediately, from the roofs and windows above,
from all sides, iron, cement, bricks and stones rained upon the
police. Lengths of pipe appeared from under coats. A truck drove up,
unloaded more missiles and moved off. From the direction of the
railway tracks another body of rioters moved in and attacked with
The uniformed men cleared a path through the
crowd and the plainclothes squad shoved their prisoners into the
vans. Driving to the RCMP's downtown station, five blocks away, they
passed three troops of RCMP horsemen moving up. A plainclothes man
leaned out of a van and shouted, "Hurry up!"
Little pockets of rioting were breaking out
along a mile of streets. The rioters overturned cars, used them for
barricades; some of the Mounted Police had to jump their horses over
them. Women with razor blades on long sticks slashed at the horses.
The riders' boots were cut to ribbons. One animal's eye hung from
its socket. The Mounties threw gas bombs; some new recruits threw
theirs too soon and rioters scooped them up and threw them back.
The first mounted troop to reach the square
turned the tide of battle. More leaders were arrested and driven
From a roof a radio commentator, describing the
scene below, was bringing thousands of curious citizens into the
streets and now the strikers could heave their bricks and duck back
into the crowd. Two Mounted Policemen were shot.
A little after nine o'clock a mob, wielding
fence posts, assaulted a group of city policemen in Market Square.
Charles Millar, a detective with a silver plate in his head, was
clubbed and died instantly. The other city policemen fired at the
mob and wounded several.
By 11:30 the streets had been cleared. The
rioters had been herded back to the exhibition grounds. Eighty men
were in custody. Later, twenty-four were tried on charges that
ranged from rioting to wounding, and nine were convicted.
Ukrainian Labor News the following week
the headlines read: police in regina have
staged a bloody battle. "Bennett's bloody
butchers!" cried another Communist paper. In all Red accounts, the
RCMP fired first.
An inflamed public opinion forced the provincial
government to set up a royal commission. After hearing 359 witnesses
it placed the blame squarely on the Communists. It found that only
one Mountie, a sergeant, had fired a shot — over the heads of a mob
that had stormed the RCMP station in a futile attempt to release the
prisoners. The others had not even carried ammunition — although
Wood had had reports that some rioters were armed. But the muted
report of a royal commission long after the event could scarcely
offset the propaganda victory scored by the Reds.
That year, 1935, after long and violent
opposition to all other left-wing groups, the Communist party made
common cause with all liberals against Fascism. This was Moscow's
so-called "united front." It gave the Reds a lasting influence in
many noncommunist groups and, in 1940, when Canada outlawed the
party, it was easy to convince many loyal liberals that the RCMP
were Red baiters. Later, the Communists claimed that the RCMP had
been "hounding" them and paying little attention to fascists.
This was true, in a sense. The Mounties had
undercover agents in every subversive party but the Reds were by far
the more efficient enemy. On the first day of World War II RCMP
agents broke the German-financed Canadian fascist group
Deutsche Arbeits Front, interning four
hundred Nazis. The German fifth column was so completely demoralized
that not one case of sabotage was traced to a Nazi agent. But the
Communists, from the day Russia and Germany signed their pact,
constantly and effectively sabotaged the war effort mentally with
such published statements as this:
It is a lie that this war is a war against
Fascism! It is a lie that the defeat of Germany by Britain and the
Dominion will benefit the people! it is a
cheap lie that we are
fighting for "democracy"! withdraw canada from
the imperialist war!
More than one hundred Communists were interned
at Hull, Quebec. The leaders went underground so far they were of
littie practical use to the party. When Russia entered the war they
emerged with their line abruptly changed ("As Canadians, it is our
duty to support the battle of democracy against Fascism"). As a sign
of sincerity Russia pretended to disband the International. The
Communist Party of Canada changed its name to the Labour-Progressive
Party. Under the surface, however, activity intensified and in 1945
the cover of secrecy was lifted for a clear look at the apparatus
In the evening of September 5 in the capital
city of Ottawa, cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko pinned some documents
under his shirt and walked out of the steel-shuttered Russian
Embassy. He was disillusioned with Russia after two years in Canada
and he knew that his chief, Colonel Nicolai Zabotin, suspected his
feelings. Like the porters and the chauffeur, Gouzenko was also a
Red Army officer, trained in intelligence work. He had carefully
selected the documents to prove that the embassy's rear wing was the
center of a huge spy ring.
Gouzenko went first to the Ottawa
Journal. The bewildered night editor
looked at his papers, handwritten in Russian. "The proper place for
you to go is the RCMP," he said. With the year's hottest news story
under his shirt Gouzenko left the newsroom and walked home to the
apartment where he lived with his wife and child. He believed he had
only a few more hours before the papers were missed.
Next morning Gouzenko called at the Justice
Building. His English was not very good. He was misdirected to the
Identification Branch, where Inspector Henry Butchers, also
misunderstanding, shuttled him to Crown Attorney Raoul Mercier.
Mercier's secretary called Norman Robertson, head of External
Affairs. "Keep him waiting," Robertson said, and phoned the Prime
Mackenzie King was just hanging up his coat in
the House of Commons, where the fall session was awaiting him to
begin. His reaction was to send Gouzenko back to the embassy. He
didn't know if the documents were genuine. It would not have been
the first time that an
agent provocateur had forged papers to
create an international incident. As King told Parliament later with
unconscious irony: "I do not think the government of Canada can take
any action which would cause the Soviet Government to believe that
we are prying into their affairs."
Discouraged and desperate, Gouzenko again
returned home. He expected an attempt on his life that night. He
told his story to a neighbor, who took the family into her
apartment. Another neighbor called the city police. The police said
they would stand guard outside. "Flick your bathroom light if you
need us," they said.
No one knew that the RCMP had been shadowing
Gouzenko since midafternoon. Inspector Butchers, by chance, had
lunched that day with John Leopold, now an inspector in the Special
(counterespionage) Branch. Butchers had mentioned the strange
visitor who had called on him that morning and Leopold had detailed
two plainclothes men to watch Gouzenko.
At 11:30 that night, with the Mounties still
watching outside the building, the city police saw a light go on and
off. They ran upstairs. Four Russian Embassy members, all Red Army
officers, were searching Gouzenko's closets. Peremptorily, they told
the police to leave.
"That door doesn't look like you opened it with
a key," a policeman said. "We'll stick around until our inspector
arrives." Angrily the Reds stamped out.
The incident lent weight to Gouzenko's story.
The RCMP took over September 8. Gouzenko and his family were taken
Only four original cablegrams, which Gouzenko
was supposed to have burned, could be checked immediately. They were
enough. They showed that the Russians had details of matters that
only Britain and Canada should have known.
The Mounties, under Superintendent Charles
Rivett-Carnac, a one-time elephant driver in India who rose to be
deputy commissioner, began to piece together the multitude of
fragmentary clues contained in the documents. Some were copies of
secret Canadian Government papers, re-copied by Gouzenko in Russian
longhand. The originals could not be drawn from file without putting
the spies on guard. Others, Gouzenko said, had been written by
Colonel Zabotin and Lieutenant Colonel Rogov, his assistant. RCMP
experts later identified their handwriting from the guest book of a
hunting lodge the diplomats had visited.
By September 17 an RCMP officer was able to
brief Prime Minister King. It seemed likely, King was told, that a
top-ranking scientist had given the Soviets all details of Canada's
atomic energy program. The man was known only by his cover name of
Alek but the evidence indicated he might be English. In fact, "Alek"
was Dr. Allan Nunn May, the distinguished British nuclear physicist.
The Mountie read a cable, No. 241:
To the Director [head of Russian intelligence in
Moscow]: Facts given by Alek . . . The output of uranium 235 amounts
to 400 grams daily at the magnetic separation plant at Clinton. The
output of "49" is likely two times greater, some graphite units are
planned for 250 grams each day. . . . Alek handed over to us a
platinum with 162 micrograms of uranium 233 in the form of oxide in
The Prime Minister was stunned. He flew to
London to talk with Prime Minister Attlee and Scotland Yard. Attlee
flew with him to Washington where they talked with President Truman.
And in Ottawa, Superintendent Rivett-Carnac and his men worked
against time and in absolute secrecy to find out the extent of the
damage, who the spies were and how they worked.
By February, King felt he could wait no longer.
He appointed a royal commission headed by two Supreme Court judges
to examine the evidence. On February 13 they recommended that the
twelve people so far identified be arrested the following day.
In perhaps the most attentive session of
Canada's Parliament the Prime Minister told MPs and reporters what
he had done. It made sensational headlines around the world. But in
Canada, some papers directed nearly as much indignation at the
government and the Mounties for holding the prisoners incommunicado
as at the prisoners and Russia for spying.
The RCMP and the government were worried. They
had taken a drastic action. It would take a conviction to justify
it. They had to get a confession or, as one Mountie put it, "we'd be
Two experienced interrogators, Inspectors
Clifford Harvi-son and Melville Anthony, were flown to Ottawa to
question the prisoners. Soon after he arrived Anthony drove out to
Rockcliffe Barracks. It was a Sunday. He wasn't ready to start his
questioning yet but he wanted to look his people over.
His half of the prisoners included Mrs. Emma
Woikin, a Saskatchewan-born Doukhobor. Anthony knew the district she
came from. He had her brought into the office he was to use for his
interviews and they talked of her home and people.
Then, following his instinct, Anthony said:
"Mrs. Woikin, I'm going to tell you some things I know about what
you've been doing. You're a cipher clerk in External Affairs. You
speak Russian. You like Russia. You wanted to help Russia. You told
Major Sokolov in the Russian Embassy that you would like to go to
Russia to work. He said you could help Russia more where you are. In
your job you type out top-secret telegrams. You memorized and copied
these telegrams, then you went to a dentist here in Ottawa and hid
your copies in his washroom. A few minutes later, Colonel Zabotin's
driver, Gourshkov, who also happens to be a Red Army captain, would
visit that dentist and go to the washroom."
Anthony leaned forward. "Now, Mrs. Woikin, I
know your people. I know they're not liars. I want you to think over
what I've told you. I'll come and see you tomorrow. By then you may
want to tell me the truth yourself."
Mrs. Woikin was silent a moment, then she raised
her head. "Why do I have to wait till tomorrow?"
"I want you to realize what you're doing. This
is a very serious business."
"I know. I want to tell the truth now."
"All right," Anthony said, "if that's what you
want to do. I'll call a stenographer."
The case had broken. They had their confession.
The Mounties were off the hook. (Of the ten Canadians later
convicted and sent to jail, Mrs. Woikin's sentence was one of the
shortest: three years.)
The espionage web that unraveled over the next
four months was one of the most successful ever revealed. Colonel
Zabotin worked through the Communist Party of Canada. Sam Carr, the
party's national organizer, and Quebec organizer and Member of
Parliament Fred Rose, would suggest potential agents to Zabotin.
(Rose was also a link with U.S. and British rings.)
This was a military spy ring. Known as "the
Net," it had given Russia every detail of antisubmarine devices;
radar experiments; the Canadian-developed V-T fuse that knocked out
the Japanese Air Force, a radio device set in the nose of a shell to
explode on near-contact; the atomic energy program and many lesser
developments. And "the Net" was only one of five Communist spy
systems. "The Neighbors," cover name for the NKVD, the secret
political police that spied on Canadian party members, was older and
larger than Zabotin's military ring. The commercial system sent in
reports on strategic industries. A political ring transmitted orders
on policy. A naval intelligence ring was being formed. None of these
last four organizations were broken.
The spy trials exposed the face of Communism.
The Mounties had struck their most successful blow at their old
archenemy. In a few years party membership shrunk from twelve to
seven thousand. The only Communist gains were a few more propaganda
licks. In reputable newspapers Communists described the dawn arrests
as "a violation of civil liberties reminiscent of Fascist
dictatorship" and the questioning as "third-degree methods."
Over the years, the Communists, in their smear
campaigns, have tried to make people think that the Mounties hate
them pathologically, persecute them, hound left-wingers out of
innocuous jobs and oppress the labor movement. The Mounties cannot
answer publicly. There is little they can say about the work of the
Special Branch. But in private conversation they point to a few
There are more than sixty thousand fellow
travelers in Canada, judging by Communist votes in the 1953
elections. There are more than six thousand party members of which
three thousand are active. The Mounties have 5376 men for every kind
of police work. The number in the Special Branch is secret, but
common sense indicates that it can be only a few hundred. "These men
have plenty to do without 'hounding' harmless radicals," says a
former Special Branch officer, Superintendent Robert MacNeil. "If
they're really dangerous, we don't want to tip them off that they're
being watched. If they're not dangerous, why sour them against the
government, maybe turn them into active Communists?"
It is a new kind of civil war and the Mounties
are on the defensive. They can only watch the party haunts, shadow
the most active members. They can only build up a counterespionage
network — undercover agents and strategically placed citizens — to
ferret out the really dangerous Communists: the secret members,
unlisted by the party, known only to their cell, outwardly
respectable. They have almost certainly infiltrated important
defense industries as potential saboteurs or spies. But if the
underground struggle comes into the open again, the Mounties are
ready. A secret or-der-in-council has been prepared. It needs only
the signature of the Minister of Justice to allow the RCMP to arrest
every known Communist.
Unseen, only half realized, the secret war
continues between these curiously similar antagonists, each a
rigidly disciplined hierarchy, each demanding so much from its
members, each sustained by belief in an ideal called justice. The
Communist ideal is a state where no man is exploited, where every
man has his duty. Their goal is a crimeless Utopia and they justify
crime for this end. For the Mounties, justice is less concrete. No
Mountie explains it well; it can best be seen in their work, in the
day-by-day job of combatting crime.