Tag Archives: Gouzenko

A Question of Treason

A few months ago some of you may remember a post I wrote about my grandfather’s involvement in the Gouzenko affair.

In 1946 – suspected of being a communist – Israel Halperin was held without charge for weeks by the RCMP and interrogated by judges who then wanted to use this information to build a case against him. This clear violation of Habeas Corpus – he was denied access to a lawyer – is a cautionary tale of how post 9-11 policies that placed some Canadians in legal limbo is neither unique nor unprecedented.

I only raise this again because the Queen’s Alumni Review has written the most detailed story to date about the incident (he was a professor at Queen’s at the time of his arrest) which can be found here.

Other than his obituary it is the first instance of the story being covered in over 50 years (as far as I know).

1946: The year the justice system failed

In this previous post on my grandfather, Israel Halperin, I (briefly) talked about how he was arrested, charged and unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Canadian government for violating the Secrecies Act during the Gouzenko Affair.

What I didn’t share (because it was discussed in the obituary) was how he was held without charge for weeks by the RCMP and interrogated by judges who wanted to use these interviews to build a case against him. This clear violation of Habeas Corpus – in addition to the above he was also held without charge and was denied access to a lawyer – is another cautionary about how the Canadian government has a history of placing its citizens in legal limbo.

Although the trial against him collapsed it was almost certainly a defining moment in his life, sparking his work as a human rights activist. Interestingly, thanks to my uncle and the research of Sandra Martin, I have the text of the letter my grandfather wrote (via his wife) to John Bracken, the Progressive Conservative Party leader of the time. The letter, which was read in the House of Commons in 1946, describes his illegal incarceration and pleads the opposition leader to help secure his release, or give him an opportunity to face his accusers.

For those who believe that Arar was an unfortunate blip in Canada’s history, Israel Halperin’s letter offers a powerful counterpoint.

For those uninterested in PDF’s here is the letter’s text:

Dear Mr. Bracken,

Although I am not a member of your political party, I feel sure that the matter about which I am writing to you will have your most serious consideration.

Since the 15th day of February 1946, I have been held prisoner by the RCMP at their barracks in Rockcliff, Ontario by an order signed by the Minister of Justice, the Hon. Louis St. Laurent.

It may sound fantastic but I have to tell you that no charges have been laid against me and I was given to understand that my status was simply that of ‘prisoner,’ held at the pleasure of the Minister of Justice, for an indefinite period of time and with absolutely no civil or legal rights other than those specifically granted by the Minister of Justice. I still do not know which rights, if any, the Minister of Justice is granted to me.

For the past five weeks I have been held in solitary imprisonment; denied access to legal counsel and newspapers: in short, cut off from the outside world.

I have written twice to the Minister of Justice in protest against this Bastille-like imprisonment. His replies referred to some Royal commission, but made no change in the incredible situation which I find myself. They have, in effect, merely confirm that the Minister of Justice is fully aware of the conditions of my imprisonment.

If I am accused of crime or misconduct, I deny the charge. I cannot know what accusation or slander have been presented to the public by the Department of Justice, either directly or through the mouths of others. But I have the certain knowledge that there cannot be a shred of true evidence for what is completely false.

This imprisonment is a terrible injustice to me and I charge the Minister of Justice with using his authority in a way which sets a dangerous precedent, one which should alarm every Canadian citizen.

I appeal to you to raise your voice on this matter and I beg you to read this letter in the House.

If you are interested in who I am, I will tell you that I am a native-born Canadian whose occupation is that a professor of mathematics in Queens University, Kingston, Ont. I come from a family whose concern for our country was sufficient to put two sons in uniform. One of them is writing this letter; the other is at the bottom of the ocean.

Since my letters are intercepted and I am never told whether they are sent on, I would be grateful if you would trouble to acknowledge this letter, if you receive it.

Yours very sincerely,

(sgd) Israel Halperin

A remarkable man passes on…

This weekend Sandra Martin of the Globe and Mail published this article/obituary on my grandfather, Israel Halperin (I’ve put a PDF version here in case the G&M link goes dead). As some of you already know my grandfather passed away on March 8 at age 96. He was a remarkable man, a fact attested to by the article’s summary:

“He was a brilliant mathematician and an influential Cold War peace activist who saved the likes of the dissident, Anatoly Shcharansky, from a Soviet labour camp, reports SANDRA MARTIN. Before all that could happen, though, he bravely and resolutely faced down espionage charges in the Gouzenko Affair of 1945.”

For those who pay attention to this blogs’ reading, this fact may clear up tit accounts for why I read Gordon Lunan’s autobiography “Redhanded: Inside the Spy Ring that Changed the World” (Gordon Lunan was the Canadian foreign affairs officer who ‘operated’ the spy ring for the Soviets in which my grandfather was alleged to have been involved). What makes the book remarkable is how it tracks the complete breakdown of law and order – and specifically the gross violations of Habeas Corpus – made possible by the use of the War Measures act, even after the war had ended. For those who believe that the mishandling of the Arar case is something new in Canadian history, my grandfather’s case offers a possible counter point…

[tags]Israel Halperin, Gouzenko, Canadian history, cold war, Arar[/tags]