THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘IT WAS A CANADIAN INITIATIVE FROM START TO FINISH’

JONATHON GATEHOUSE January 31 2005
THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘IT WAS A CANADIAN INITIATIVE FROM START TO FINISH’

JONATHON GATEHOUSE January 31 2005

‘IT WAS A CANADIAN INITIATIVE FROM START TO FINISH’

THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

Anniversaries

KEN TAYLOR

WHEN STUDENT RADICALS seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, taking more than 60 staff hostage, six lucky American citizens found friends in a time of great need. Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and his staff took them in, hid them for months from hostile authorities, and helped engineer a daring escape from Iran. Flailed as Canada’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Taylor became an overnight celebrity, especially south of the border. This Jan. 28 marks the 25th anniversary of the flight from danger.

Do you ever get sick of talking about the “Canadian Caper”?

No, it’s got many angles to it. Our life went

on, yet it’s always with you. Particularly in New York City, where I live, people here have long memories.

You used to get stopped in the streets and airports. Does that still happen?

On occasion. It’s a long time ago, really. Now, it’s mostly those who were 15 and up at the time who recollect.

Do you have any contact with the American hostages or “houseguests” you sheltered?

Primarily with Bruce Laingen, who was the American chargé d’affaires in Tehran, and was held at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The others—we exchange cards at Christmas and have the occasional reunion. The last was about six or seven years ago.

In recent years, there have been revelations about the CIA’s role in planning the escape. Did Canada get too much credit?

Not at all. The CIA certainly played a crucial role and that was never denied. The distortion is the idea that it handled the escape in its entirety. It was a Canadian initiative from start to finish. The CIA became very much involved about halfway through and, in consultation with Ottawa, set up the framework for us to depart.

You were once quoted as saying you wouldn’t go back to Iran “even for dinner.” Do you still feel the same way?

Iran has evolved. But they are still very sensitive about passports, and entering and exiting the country. It would just be selfindulgent if I went back. I have good memories of Iran and I think I’ll leave it at that.

Do you think the Americans learned anything from their experience in Iran?

I think the American view of the Middle East has matured, though when you take Iraq into account, you wonder how profound the lesson has been. It suggested that the U.S. deliberately, or maybe indifferently, does meddle in the world today. Sometimes entirely in a self-interested fashion, sometimes to what it feels is everyone’s benefit.

Do you still have those big glasses you wore 25 years ago?

I was recently looking back at some pictures and saw those “headlights” I used to wear, and got nostalgic. So I went and rummaged around in some drawers and found them and put them on. My prescription has changed so I couldn’t see very well. But maybe I’ll revert to them for a while to see if anybody recognizes me. JONATHON GATEHOUSE