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“Perhaps the most ominous Featherbed File finding from a security standpoint was the conclusion that O. D. Skelton, the revered ‘father of the civil service.’ was a Comintern agent recruited in 1923.”

—Bob Reguly, in Toronto Sun article, “Do
Soviets Run Civil Service?” (Mar. 31, 1981)

The almost incredible story of Soviet penetration into the Canadian civil service has never been written, with the exception of the Gouzenko exposé of the ’40s which uncovered one branch of Soviet spying: the GRU military intelligence network masterminded by Col. Zabotin. However, the Royal Commission Report dealing with Soviet espionage in the ’40s revealed that other Soviet spies active in the External Affairs Department had either fled the country (Jean-Louis Gagnon fled to Brazil, with the cooperation of Mitchell Sharp, then a director of Brazilian Traction Corporation) or could not be positively identified because only their code names were known.

The American government had permitted the Soviets to open a “trade” office in New York under the name of “Amtorg Corporation,” and in 1924 Canada followed suit and the Amtorg Trade building in Montreal soon became a transmission belt for

Comintern agents. In his informative book The Communist Party in Canada, Ivan Avakumovic, a History Professor at the U.B.C. and author of several other books on Communism, refers to this period:

The Communist International, besides issuing general guidelines, expressed its views on specific Canadian problems through the Anglo-American Secretariat, one of the organizational subdivisions of the Comintern. It was composed largely of American and British Communists working in Moscow, who followed events in Canada, read the minutes of leading CPC bodies and reports submitted by Canadian Communists on various topics. Periodically, Comintern officials discussed the affairs and problems of the Canadian Communist movement with delegates from the CPC. On the basis of these discussions and analyses, statements and advice in the form of directives, resolutions, telegrams, “Open Letters” and articles in the Comintern press reached the CPC. Material that could not be entrusted to the mails was sometimes delivered by the special courier service of the Comintern either directly from Europe or via the Communist Party of the U.S.A. Occasionally, in the years 1924-1927, the Comintern would use the facilities of the Soviet Trade Mission in Montreal.

 

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