#OTD in 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a cipher for the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, defects to Canada carrying with him over a hundred documents proving the Soviets were spying on Canada.

In event that many would see as the public start of the Cold War in America, Igor Gouzenko defected from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa to Canada. With him he brought over a hundred documents proving that the Soviets had a spy ring within the Canadian Government. By doing so, Canadians became starkly aware of the extent of Soviet espionage existing with the Canada.

Igor Gouzenko (centre) in a Toronto hotel room, 11 April 1954. Photo: Canadian Press

In 1943, Igor Gouzenko was stationed in Ottawa as a cipher clerk. Over the next two years Gouzenko would decipher messages from the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate for Russia. During his time monitoring and deciphering messages, Gouzenko became aware of the Soviet espionage in Canada. 

Igor Gouzenko
Photo: Library and Archives Canada


In 1945, Gouzenko defected to Canada when he heard that family was being sent home to the Soviet Union. On September 5th, 1945 Gouzenko left the embassy with 109 documents, including a Soviet cipher book. Gouzenko first went to the Ottawa Journal, but was told instead to go to the police. When Gouzenko approached the Minister of Justice with his information, he was told to go home until his claims were verified. The Minister of Justice at the time was Louis St. Laurent, and he sought to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union and did not want to cause an international crisis. Gouzenko was sent home with two RCMP agents to monitor his apartment, but Gouzenko fearing for his life opted to hide in a neighbour’s apartment lest the Soviet government seek reprisal, which in fact they did. It was only when men from the Soviet embassy broke into Gouzenko’s apartment looking for the defected Soviet and his documents did the RCMP and Minister of Justice take Gouzenko’s claims seriously. 

Colonel Nikolei Zabotin
Photo: Parks Canada

To protect this potential asset, the Gouzenko family was granted asylum and kept in hiding four months until Gouzenko’s claims were verified. As a result of the claims and documentation provided by Gouzenko, an investigation was launched resulting in the arrest of 21 Canadians and the conviction of 11. In 1946, the Canadian Government launched the Kellock-Taschebeau Royal Commission that investigated Soviet espionage in Canada. Gouzenko gave extensive testimony in the commission that led to the commissioners confirming in 1946 that a spy ring has been operating in Canada. According to the Commission, the spy ring led by Colonel Zabotin sought to obtaining atomic secrets.

In the decades following the affair, Gouzenko made a series of media appearances offering his theories on Soviet espionage activities. His appearances began with the Front Page Challenge  -  in 1958 where Gouzenko appeared on screen with a bag covering his head. In June of 1982, Igor Gouzenko passed away of a heart attack while living under an assumed name with his family. Most consider Gouzenko the first public indicator of the Cold War, his defection sparked extensive media and political suspicion of the Soviet Union, leading to the red scare sentiment throughout the Cold War of the following decades. 

 1946 Globe and Mail Front Page  Photo: Globe and Mail

1946 Globe and Mail Front Page
Photo: Globe and Mail

Works Cited:


http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/igor-sergeievich-gouzenko/ http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1945-gouzenko-defection-exposes-Soviet-spy-ring