The Pearson Case

“What has been heretofore the Norman case,” said the Toronto Globe and Mail, “now becomes the Pearson case.” Last week the political hurricane whipped up by the suicide of Ambassador Herbert Norman in Cairo buffeted Canada's External Affairs Chief Lester Pearson, who stood accused of cover-up and contradiction in public statements about Ambassador Norman’s security position.

At issue was the Canadian government’s responsibility and behavior when the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee revealed in 1951, and again last month, that Norman had associated with Communists as a 28-year-old student at Columbia University. Why, demanded the Montreal Gazette’s Arthur Blakely. “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?” As early as February 1940, Blakely reported, an undercover agent relayed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police the information that the new Canadian Foreign Service officer [Norman] was a secret member of the Communist Party.”

Secret Report

Goaded to an answer, Pearson fired off a telegram to the Gazette: “It is true that a report by an R.C.M.P. secret agent mentions Norman as a member of the Canadian Communist Party in 1940, and it is no doubt this report, which was forwarded by the R.C.M.P. in October 1950 to appropriate agencies, to which Blakely and [Senate Committee Counsel Robert] Morris refer.”

But later in 1950, said Pearson, the R.C.M.P. double-checked this ten-year-old security report on Norman, reported “that the information given is one of either mistaken identity or unfounded rumor by an unidentified subsource.”*

Pearson’s answer only raised a new question: Had a disloyalty charge against Diplomat Norman – even though it proved to be false – stood for ten years without getting a thorough check from External Affairs? And there was still the unchallenged statement of Orientalist Karl Wittfogel, an ex-Communist, that he had known Norman as a Communist.

The week’s events did buttress what Newsman Blakely called “the expanding record.” Some new points:

While serving as head of Canada’s liaison mission to General MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo after World War II. Norman was called home for questioning and a new security check. The principal point of suspicion: his association with Israel Halperin. a major in the Royal Canadian Artillery who was tried on a charge of aiding the Sam Carr-Fred Rose atom spy ring, and acquitted.

Norman’s newly changed private telephone number was once found in the papers of Toronto Lawyer Francis W. Park, national director of the National Council for Canadian-Soviet Friendship.

* The “subsource” promptly identified himself as Pat Walsh, a onetime courier for the Communists who is now secretary of the Pan-Canadian Anti-Communist League. “Mistaken identity – rubbish,” scoffed Walsh in an interview with the Toronto Telegram. “My report was the facts of the case. The second report [clearing Norman] was the intervention of Pearson.”

Source: No author, "The Pearson Case," Time Magazine, April 29, 1957

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