This Day in History (5-Sep-1945) – The Gouzenko Affair Ushers in the Cold War

Four months after the world had celebrated the Allied victory in Europe, a wire clerk Igor Gouzenko based at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Canada decided he could not bear the thought of returning to his homeland.  Gouzenko made the drastic decision to claim asylum in Canada and inform the government about the scope of Soviet spying in North America. Leaving the embassy with several top-secret documents hidden under his coat, he headed to members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Incredulous, the Mounties dismissed the former Soviet code man, leaving him to turn first to the editor of the Ottawa Journal (who also found it too difficult too believe) and then the Department of Justice, only to find no one available to hear his story.

Terrified for what may happen to his family once his bosses found out, Gouzenko rushed home to shuttled his wife and children across the hall into the neighbor’s apartment. Late at night, Soviet agents kicked down the door of his home and began searching his belongings. Horrified, Gouzenko watched through the peephole as his former colleagues ransacked his home until Ottawa police arrived on the scene. The next morning, Gouzenko tried the Mounties again and met with success this time. Transported to a secret location outside the city, he sat with officials from MI5 representing British and Canadian interests, as well as officers from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since diplomatic relations between Canada and USSR were very good at the time, the operation was kept under secret. The Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King, signed a top-secret Order-in-Council (PC6444) passed under the authority of the War Measures Act. The order directed Minister of Justice Louis St. Laurent (a future prime minister) to use whatever means were necessary to investigate Gouzenko’s claim. Under the War Measures Act, the minister of justice had unlimited powers over the “arrest, detention and deportation”.

Authorities in Canada were able to convict 18 of 39 suspected double agents of treason, including one Member of Parliament. Living under an assumed name for the rest of his life, Gouzenko had accelerated new age of suspicion and competition between the West and Soviet Union that would last for nearly five decades.



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