Arthur Blakely

The Truth Comes Very Late

In this complacent capital, Communist study groups flourished in astonishing places during the war years. Public servants in key posts whose loyalty had never been questioned found the conspiratorial atmosphere and the clandestine activities of these groups a thrilling contrast to the humdrum routine of everyday life. Meanwhile, a mildly amused by sternly practical Russian espionage system carefully “developed” likely recruits in these study groups, from among the strangely naive intellectuals who didn’t see until too late the probable consequences of involvement.

When an incredulous Canadian Government reluctantly opened the 1945-46 spy probe, one of the most interesting fish caught in the net was Israel Halperin, an artillery major with access to a number of top secret projects.

It has been reported that it was found necessary to question Dr. Norman, for reasons not disclosed, in connection with the Halperin case. The report has never — though it is by no means of recent origin — been confirmed or denied.

It should be stated that Halperin himself was tried and acquitted. It should also be stated that the Royal Commission on Espionage [declared]: “When Halperin appeared before the Commission [...] his refusal to furnish any explanation and his general demeanour, fully convince us that he violated the Official Secrets Act on more than one occasion.”

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But certainly as far as Dr. Norman was concerned, the Government — and the Rt. Hon. L. S. St. Laurent who as Minister of Justice had set the Royal Commission in motion and who became, in September, 1946, Secretary of State for External Affairs — there seem to have been no lingering doubts. During the next few years, his career prospered.

In 1951, he was Canada’s acting permanent delegate to the U.N. when the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Internal Security, hot in pursuit of the IPR, Amerasia and Owen Lattimore, Edward Carter, Frederick Field et al, stumbled across Dr. Norman’s name.

When it was finally identified as that of a very senior Canadian official, the fat was in the fire. The temperature rose further when Dr. Norman’s erstwhile friend and associate, Dr. Karl Wittogel, testified about the Communist study group.


Dr. Norman underwent — at his own request, the External Affairs Department said later — another security check. The RCMP supplied the data. But it was the Government itself, as Mr. Pearson said last week, that decided that Dr. Norman had passed the test. This done, a note was despatched to Washington expressing Ottawa’s “regret and annoyance” that Dr. Norman should have been named on the basis of “an unimpressive and unsubstantiated allegation by a former Communist.” But the charges themselves were virtually ignored.

Evidence suggests that Dr. Norman was a disturbed and uneasy man for the six years that remained of his life. Last week the Government belatedly disclosed some aspects of the Norman case which had previously been kept hidden. But the evidence submitted in the Canadian security check in 1951 has never been revealed.

As a pointed demonstration of confidence in Dr. Norman, the Government moved him further up the ladder. He became Canadian High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Then last August, the sensitive and harassed Dr. Norman was handed the most nerve-wrecking assignment of his career — the post of Canadian Ambassador to Egypt. He was under tremendous strain through the Suez crisis. Then last month, the U.S. Senate Sub-committee began to excavate deeper into his past. Ottawa fired off another angry protest to Washington. But before it was answered, news came that Ambassador Norman had taken his own life.

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The Case poses interesting questions — some of which may never be answered.

Is it true, despite vaguely worded denials here, that part of the RCMP’s confidential file on the late Dr. Norman is in the hands of the U.S. Senate Sub-committee?

If, on the other hand, Mr. Pearson’s loosely-phrased denial means what it seems to mean and no Canadian security data on Dr. Norman reached the sub-committee via an official agency of the U.S. Government, why the spectacular threat to curtail the flow of security data between the U.S. and Canadian Governments?


Why was a sensitive, naive and tortured man given an ambassadorial posting last August to Egypt, an international powder keg waiting to explode?

Why, if unalterably persuaded of the innocence of Dr. Norman’s associations, did the Government wait for six years to deal openly and candidly — and even then not fully —with the security questions raised in Washington in 1951, thereby subjecting Dr. Norman to years of mental anguish?

Source: Arthur Blakely, "The Truth Comes Very Late," Montreal Gazette, April 17, 1957

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