US Investigation of Canadians During the Second Red Scare, 1953-1957

By Alexandra Southgate, University of Toronto |

This blog post accompanies the release of a digital briefing book, created in May 2018 by a team of University of Toronto undergraduate students participating in the Jackman Humanities Institute’s Scholars-in-Residence research program. Part of an ongoing series, Canada Declassified‘s digital briefing books include key documents from recently declassified government files released by Library and Archives Canada via the Access to Information Act. This project was supported, in part, by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, “Canada in the Atomic Age: Unlocking the Nuclear Vault,” 430-2018-00291.

On multiple occasions during the 1950s the Canadian government came to believe that they were being shortchanged by the Unite States when it came to American investigations of Canadian citizens. The Prime Minister would often find out from the morning newspaper, for example, that a US Congressional committee had implicated a Canadian citizen in subversive activities. Canadian government efforts to internally investigate subversive activities were likewise often hamstrung by vague and noncommittal responses from Washington to requests for information regarding Canadian citizens.

The documents collected in this briefing book give an overview of Canada’s displeasure with the US treatment of information regarding Canadians during their many investigations into subversive activities. What steps did Canada take to address what they saw to be an unequal relationship? What are the implications of the Red Scare witch hunts for Canada-US relations?

This briefing book was compiled with materials from a file entitled “United States Investigations into Subversive Activities in the US – Implication of Canadian Officials.” At first glance, the documents enclosed in the file seemed to be thrown together almost completely at random. Much of the file was newspaper clippings and reports, and none of them seemed to be connected. Eventually, I came to realize there was a commonality in how the Canadians reacted to news of US investigations. They continued to be frustrated at lack of communication and sought assurances that they would be kept in the loop.

This briefing book, I hope, gives a sense of how complicated McCarthyism was, the far-reaching effects the congressional witch hunts had, and what that meant for Canadians.

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