Can McCarthy Happen Here ?

The answer is “yes.” This searching study of the U. S. investigating committees and their Canadian equivalents — including the prelude to the Ottawa spy case of 1945 — reveals that Canadians have no cast-iron guarantees against judgment without fair trial

BLAIR FRASER March 15 1954

Can McCarthy Happen Here ?

The answer is “yes.” This searching study of the U. S. investigating committees and their Canadian equivalents — including the prelude to the Ottawa spy case of 1945 — reveals that Canadians have no cast-iron guarantees against judgment without fair trial

BLAIR FRASER March 15 1954

Can McCarthy Happen Here ?

The answer is “yes.” This searching study of the U. S. investigating committees and their Canadian equivalents — including the prelude to the Ottawa spy case of 1945 — reveals that Canadians have no cast-iron guarantees against judgment without fair trial


SO FAR, Canada has never had to take McCarthyism seriously. Its only prominent advocate here has been John Blackmore, the Social Credit MP from Lethbridge, Alta., and even among Social Crediters John Blackmore is often a minority of one. His defense of Senator Joe McCarthy personally, like his proposal for a McCarthy-type committee to investigate Communist infiltration of the Canadian government service, roused more mirth than serious interest.

There was more than a touch of comic opera, too, about our most recent direct contact with a U. S. Congressional committee enquiry. That was the visit of Senator William Jenner and Pat McCarran, respectively chairman and ex-chairman of the U. S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee.

From the time the last flash bulb popped at their arrival in Montreal’s Central Station to the moment they got back to Washington some forty-eight hours later, both senators were visibly aware of being in a strange and alien land. One of their first disillusionments came when they ordered a Kentucky bourbon before lunch and found to their horror that they’d have to take rye.

They were here to interview Igor Gouzenko, the onetime Soviet cipher clerk who exposed a Communist spy ring in Canada eight years ago. Canadian officials hadn’t wanted the visit in the first place, and although they were punctiliously courteous they were also very formal. The Gouzenko hearing “somewhere in Canada” could hardly have been more unlike the newsreel and television show which the senators are accustomed to put on. Chief Justice J. C. McRuer of the Ontario Supreme Court presided and kept rigid control of procedure. The physical setting was comfortable but stately and the spectators were a handful of U. S. and Canadian officials and nobody else.


Senator McCarran, whose reputation has not been built upon reticence, was so quelled by his strange environment that he asked only one question of Gouzenko:

“Is there anything you would have said to us alone, that you don t feel free to say at this hearing?”

Gouzenko said there wasn’t. When I talked later to Senator McCarran in Washington he said the trip to Canada had been worth while but he didn’t sound very convincing. Other people called it a waste of time.

But at least the Gouzenko hearing did no one any harm. By Canadian stipulation it was private, the transcript subject to Canadian scrutiny before bublioation. No one was in danger of being ^meared by a casual question, or by hear;ay evidence, or by remote association with »me now-condemned cause or person.

All these things have happened at Congressional committee hearings from ime to time. A Congressional committee s not a court of law; it offers none of the ïsual protections and prerogatives to an iccused person. He may not cross-examine vitnessís who testify against him; he may lot call witnesses of his own to contradict ;hem; often he isn’t even told that some damaging statement is to be made against aim, so as to prepare a denial or an explanapion. Most committees allow witnesses to nave legal counsel (though even that is purely a privilege, not a right) but their counsel may not ask questions or make statements.

Yet the witness, thus unprotected, is almost is much in jeopardy before a Congressional investigation as if he were on trial in court. If he makes a misstatement he may be prosecuted for perjury; if he refuses to answer questions he may be imprisoned for contempt; in any case,

merely -by the accusation itself, he may have been placed in grave danger of losing his job and being unable to find another.

Last December I sat in a Washington committee room and watched Senator McCarthy, with evident relish, wreck the career of a young physicist whose colleagues in Canada and the U. S. rate him among the ablest radar men on the continent. His name is Aaron Coleman; at that time he was still on-the siaff of the U. S. Signal Corps research station at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Coleman had two or three scrapes with security authorities during his fourteen years on secret radar work. Once he wrote home from Guadalcanal, where be was serving with the Marines, for some classified information on which he’d worked before enlistment. In 1946 he took home some classified documents for work he wanted to do that night. For this breach of regulations he was reprimanded at the time and suspended for several days without pay. Also he had been a college classmate of Julius Rosenberg, the spy executed last year, and an ex-Communist informer had told of seeing him at Young Communist League meetings in 1937, when he was a student. (Coleman said he did go to one such meeting but wasn’t attracted to the Young Communists and never went back.)

That is the entire case against Aaron Coleman. None of it was new; none of it was discovered by Senator McCarthy at any time. It had all been hashed over many times at loyalty “screenings.”

First the army cleared Coleman and sent him back to work. Later, as the spy scare mounted, he was put on a job that gave him no access to secret

material. It wasn’t much of a job for a man of unusual talent but it was a living. After McCarthy made the case public, though, Coleman was fired.

This sort of rough justice, and such performances as the Jenner-McCarran expedition, have created two general impressions in Canada about U. S. Congressional committee enquiries:

1. They are a lamentable defect of the United States system of government; and

2. Nothing remotely like them could happen in Canada.

Both impressions are wrong. McCarthyism could indeed happen here—might very well have happened had Canada not been as lucky as the United States was unlucky in her first exposure of the Communist conspiracy after the war. Many a near comparison, not all to Canada’s advantage, can be drawn between Congressional enquiries and our Canadian Parliamentary committees and royal commissions.

A Parliamentary committee is composed of MPs or senators or both and

includes representatives of all parties in rough proportion to their strength in the respective Houses. A royal commission is appointed by the government, its members usually though not always from outside politics. Committees and royal commissions both make their own rules, within the powers and the terms of reference laid down for them by parliament or the government. Constitutionally, a Canadian Parliamentary committee or royal commission can commit any violation of individual liberty that can be committed by a U. S. Congressional enquiry.

U. S. Congressional enquiries, incidentally, have made many contributions to good government. It was the very subcommittee now headed by McCarthy which in the last Congress exposed the “five percenters” who made a fat living out of “knowing the right people” in Washington. This was a Democratic Congress. The committee had a Democratic majority and a Democratic chairman. It turned up the mink coats, the deep freezes and the other strangely generous gifts to White House hangers-on that did so much to defeat the Democrats in 1952.

About the same time a Canadian Parliamentary committee, with a solid Liberal majority, undertook to investigate the handling of the foot-andmouth disease epidemic in Saskatchewan. There was no corruption here but there certainly was gross incompetence. Conservative and CCF members were able to make that fact clear in a piecemeal fashion at the hearings in Ottawa. But no real rebuke was ever spoken, no real ättempt ever made to single out the officials responsible. After a fumble which might have ruined Canadian agriculture, they are still in their jobs.

You can find the same contrast in earlier examples. In 1924 a U. S. Congressional committee headed by Senator Thomas Walsh exposed the Teapot Dome oil scandal which eventually sent one member of the Harding cabinet and three of his senior officials to prison. In 1925 a Canadian Parliamentary committee studied the Customs scandal already exposed by H. H. Stevens, Conservative MP. Before the enquiry began, the responsible cabinet minister was removed to the sanctuary of the Senate.

Not that Canadian Parliamentary investigations have always been ineffective. The first such Parliamentary committee (later superseded by a royal commission) aired the Pacific scandal of 1872 and found that Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald had demanded campaign funds from the man who was to have built the CPR, Sir Hugh Allan. Similar committees exoossd the McCreevy scandal in the 1899.S (padded contracts), the Beauharnois scandal of 1931 (contributions from seekers after power rights, including payment of a holiday hotel bill for Mackenzie King when he was Prime Minister) .and innumerable scandals in provincial affairs across Canada.

Generally speaking though the United States Congressional committee has been a much sterner inquisitor. Even before the Revolution, as far back as 1701, the New York legislature jailed two men who refused to testify about payment of a bribe to a corrupt official. Since 1857 contempt of Congress has been a statutory offense for which Americans could be prosecuted—the ten Hollywood writers and directors who refused to answer questions by the House Un-American Activities Committee a few years ago were convicted and sentenced by an ordinary court. At the same time Congress retains its own power to punish directly.

Canada’s parliament, like Britain’s, has full power to punish contempt hut the power is not often exercised. The last occasion was in 1913 when one R. C. Miller was sent to Ottawa jail until the end of the current session after having twice refused to answer a question put to him. (Miller had charged publicly that he’d had to pay forty-one thousand dollars in bribes in order to get a hundred and seventeen thousand dollars’ worth of government business. Parliament demanded to know who had received the alleged bribes; Miller refused to tell.)

Normally the Canadian House has been lenient. During the Pacific scandal, the committee wanted to question L. S. Huntingdon, the MP who had made the charges against Sir John Macdonald. Huntingdon refused to appear; it was supposed that he did not wish to be questioned about his methods of obtaining the information. According to an affidavit in the archives, the Liberals bought the incriminating documents from an ex-employee of Sir Hugh Allan’s firm for five thousand dollars cash and the promise of a job when the Liberals got into office. But Huntingdon was never compelled to testify and the facts have never really been established.

The U. S. Congress, if it followed its norma] practice, would have got to the bottom of this. These sterner methods, of course, have their own disadvantages, even in the best of cases.

One of the most useful U. S. enquiries of recent years revealed that officials of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a U. S. Government lending agency, were being treated to costly Florida vacations by corporations seeking loans. The situation was exposed by a Senate committee of which William Fulbright of Arkansas was chairman and Paul Douglas of Illinois an energetic member.

Fulbright is a former Rhodes scholar, Douglas a university professor; both have impeccable reputations for intelligence, integrity and fairness of mind. Their committee did an admirable job and cleaned up a bad mess. Yet Senator Douglas himself said to me in Washington a few weeks ago:

“Looking back, and knowing what 1 know now, I think we were unfair to some people.

“It’s almost impossible to maintain a just balance when you’re both prosecutor and judge. There’s a constant temptation to ‘get’ the man you’re questioning, if you have any reason to think he’s involved in whatever you’re trying to expose. You’re tempted partly because you are a sort of prosecutor, and partly because of the publicity you’re getting. Publicity is valuable to us all in politics.”

If that temptation affects even such a man as Paul Douglas, you can imagine what it does to the chairmen of the three Congressional committees, two in the Senate and one in the House, which have for the last several years spent all their time investigating Communism.

McCarthy’s Interest Belated

None is a man of distinguished record. Senator McCarthy, who has had the most publicity, heads the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Until he began preaching anti-Communism in 1949 he had enjoyed little public notice, and some of that was unfavorable. McCarthy’s interest in Communism, though intense, was somewhat belated. Philip Potter, Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Sun, made a careful search of McCarthy’s pre-1949 speeches and found only one mention of Communism in his whole public career.

Senator Jenner heads the Internal Security Subcommittee which has been preoccupied with Communism for some years. Jenner’s chief claim to fame, until he assumed his present post, was having outdone even McCarthy in vituperation against that distinguished American, General George C. Marshall, the man who gave his name to the Marshall Plan. While the Republicans were out of power Jenner was commonly regarded as a McCarthy man. Since the Eisenhower victory he has shown himself much more amenable to party discipline than McCarthy and has acquired more respectability among Republicans. The administration tries to divert “subversion” cases to the Jenner committee, and away from the McCarthy committee, whenever it can.

Congressman Harold Velde of Illinois is chairman of the oldest committee of the three, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, first set up under Martin Dies in 1938. Velde is a former FBI agent, later elected county judge and still called “Judge” by his staff. He is rated an amiable convivial soul who was little known before the Republicans came to power. He has since won brief bursts of fame by suggesting his committee might investigate the clergy, and by trying to subpoena former President Harry Truman.

Unlike a Parliamentary committee in Canada, which never has a budget and seldom has a staff, Congressional committees are well provided with

funds and full-time workers. Last year the three investigating committees got seven hundred and nineteen thousand dollars, plus fifty thousand for a special committee to investigate taxexempt foundations. McCarthy’s share was two hundred thousand, Jenner’s two hundred and nineteen thousand, Velde’s three hundred thousand. Velde’s committee employs forty people and has a file room said to contain six hundred thousand individual dossiers. Jenner’s staff usually runs around two dozen, McCarthy’s about twenty (not counting informers in the field).

There are no hard statistics to show what the committees have accomplished. They are in session most of the time, in Washington or elsewhere. They have heard hundreds, perhaps thousands of witnesses — each committee tries to interview all it can find and most of the best-known informers have appeared before all three at one time or another. So also have many of those suspected Communists who “plead the Fifth Amendment” — i.e., refuse to answer questions on the ground that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be

witness against himself.” (A Congressional hearing is not a criminal case but courts have upheld a man’s right to refuse if a truthful answer might tend to incriminate him.) About two hundred and fifty such balky witnesses appeared last year but no one has sorted them out to eliminate duplications.

In general terms, though, it is not difficult to appraise what each committee has done. Contrary to an opinion widespread in both countries Senator McCarthy has accomplished least of the three. No case of espionage, no highly placed Communist has ever been exposed by McCarthy. In his own report of committee activities in 1953 he says he unearthed “a number” of “Fifth Amendment Communists” on Government payrolls; the New York Times enquired and learned that the number was four. No names were given. Apparently none was thought important enough for special mention.

Most of McCarthy’s work has been to exhume, as he did in the case of the unfortunate Aaron Coleman, cases already examined by other agencies. He has often been able to have people fired who had previously been cleared but I don’t know any case in which he produced new evidence.

Undoubtedly though he has been largely responsible for the present atmosphere of alarm, suspicion and insecurity in the U. S. government service at home and abroad. If this is a benefit to the United States and her allies McCarthy deserves credit for it.

Senator Jenner’s committee, unlike McCarthy’s, has not been entirely dominated by the chairman, either Jenner or his predecessor, Senator Pat McCarran. It has been more under the charge of its chief counsel, Robert Morris, who resigned in January to become a judge in New York.

Morris is a very different man from McCarthy. He got little publicity for his work and so far as I know has never been accused of seeking it. His reports for the committee are well written, moderate in tone and appear to be well documented. Morris documents his reports with actual quotations and not, as is McCarthy’s habit, with subtly adjusted paraphrases.

That Lattimore Case

Probably the most important and certainly the most controversial task of the Jenner-McCarran committee in recent years was its investigation of the Institute of Pacific Relations—or as it might well be called, “The Trial of Owen Lattimore.”

Lattimore’s name was brought into public controversy by McCarthy in 1949, when McCarthy called him “Number One Soviet Agent” in the State Department and “chief architect” of U. S. Far Eastern policy. Neither then nor since could McCarthy produce any evidence to support his charge. A Senate committee enquiry learned that Lattimore had never worked for the State Department except as an occasional consultant; that no recent Secretary of State had ever so much as met this “chief architect” of State Department policy. The Senate committee reported that McCarthy’s charges were “a fraud and a hoax” and gave Lattimore a clean bill of health.

Later the case was taken up again by the Jenner committee (or, as it then was, the McCarran committee). The committee did not prove nor did its report say that Lattimore was a Communist Party member. Its proof seems thin and shaky for its statement that Lattimore was “a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy,” in his writings and his activities in the Institute of Pacific Relations. The committee accused Lattimore of perjury; four of the seven charges laid as a result of the report were thrown out of court before trial. (This decision is now being appealed.)

But though the enquiry did not convict Lattimore of any offense and certainly did not substantiate any of McCarthy’s charges, it did produce documentary evidence that Lattimore had not been as detached an interpreter of Far Eastern affairs as he was supposed to be. He was a consistent partisan of the Soviet point of view in a

large number of issues in Far Eastern policy and the committee hearings established this fact beyond reasonable doubt.

It’s a matter for argument though whether this is to the credit or discredit of Robert Morris and the Internal Security Subcommittee. Deservedly or not, Owen Lattimore was ruined by that hearing. His career as a professor and expert journalist has been irretrievably wrecked. So he was on trial for his livelihood, if not his life, and it’s hard to believe he got a really fair trial.

“It was like watching a bearbaiting,” one spectator said. “Lattimore was like an animal at bay, with the whole pack of them against him and nobody on his side. They would badger and bait him into saying something he didn’t quite mean and then they’d threaten him with a perjury charge.”

One trouble is that the JennerMcCarran committee is a monolith— there are two parties represented among its members but only one point of view. McCarran, though a Democrat, is just as much a McCarthy man as Jenner ever was.

This is one reason why the House Un-American Activities Committee is rated by far the best of the three by Washington reporters who cover the Red-hunting beat. Velde’s committee is genuinely bipartisan—its Democrats are Liberal Democrats. It has a minority as well as a majority counsel, which means there is some reasonable facsimile of cross-examination and of counsel for the defense. (In the McCarran committee hearings, the least prejudiced man was Robert Morris and he was in the role of prosecutor.)

The House Un-American Activities Committee also has the best record of accomplishment. This was the committee which exposed Alger Hiss. If it hadn’t been for that committee Hiss would still be president of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, still a trusted friend and counselor of the State Department, still a potent influence in getting a young man a job in the U. S. Foreign Service. The committee proved (beyond, I think, a reasonable doubt) that Hiss was in fact a Soviet spy.

Few Canadians appreciate even now the shock this was to the American people. It’s as if a former Rhodes scholar now high in the Government’s councils—someone like Jack Pickersgill or Mike Pearson while they were still civil servants — had suddenly turned out to be an enemy agent. And of course, none of Hiss’ colleagues had suspected him—so that when the proof finally came the administration was open to the charge of laxity and sloth.

Canada’s postwar experience with the Soviet spy machine was different in every important particular. The spies that Igor Gouzenko exposed, far from being eminent and uniquely trusted, were little people of no great account. Much of the information they gave to the Russians was trivial but the Canadian Government did not fail to take the conspiracy seriously. Once it was convinced that Igor Gouzenko was telling the truth it acted with unprecedented harshness.

More than a dozen suspects were got out of bed before dawn and held incommunicado, with no charge laid against them, for weeks while they were examined without benefit of counsel. Some who were later convicted of espionage were convicted largely on their own testimony, given before the Royal Commission. Some who refused to talk were acquitted; the Crown had no admissible evidence against them. Of the twenty people named as spies in the Royal Commission report only ten were convicted and sentenced; nine were found not guilty and one was never charged.

Whether the Government’s extraordinary measures were justified, Canadians ought to remember that in the United States they simply could not have been taken. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, would have prevented them. In Canada the necessary authority was provided by a secret order-in-council signed by only four cabinet ministers; even the rest of the cabinet didn’t know what was afoot. Nobody in the United States from the president down could have done such a thing legally. They can’t do that kind of thing to American citizens.

Another thing to remember, perhaps the most important thing of all in comparing the two countries’ anti-Communist policies, is the kind of criticism these harsh measures brought forth. Nobody ever said the Canadian Government was lax, or “soft.” Quite the contrary. What little criticism there was, and it was little enough, was all against the over-severity, the abolition of civil liberties and the arbitrary use of police power.

Thus the Canadian Government, unharried by the hue and cry that McCarthy and company were raising in the United States, could face the continuing problem of “subversion” and security in relative peace and quiet. There was no demand for “loyalty boards,” no urge toward witch hunts. Canada’s security system, what there is of it, was sêt up with a minimum of publicity.

Security checks are carried out here for positions requiring access to classified information, with the RCMP providing informative reports but no recommendations. Each “vulnerable” department has its security officer; there is an interdepartmental advisory committee known as the “security panel” which tries to keep security policy consistent throughout the government service. But ultimate responsibility remains with the head of each department. There are no laid-down rules that for this, that or the other reason a civil servant must be dismissed or retained. If his boss continues to trust him, he stays. If not, he goes.

There is no machinery for appeal or any other such protection for an accused man. Even the word “accused”

is misleading for no accusation is made as a rule. A suspected man may be, and a few have been, fired out of hand without being told why. Such a man could ask to have his case reviewed and carry it up to the head of his department but he has no appeal to any outside authority.

In practice, a suspect is not usually dismissed from the civil service but merely transferred away from secret work. Whenever possible he is moved to a job with equal pay so that he suffers no financial loss. Nevertheless, security officers are specifically reminded that transfer to a less congenial job is still a penalty, and must not be inflicted unless there are real grounds for misgiving.

A Gentle Hint

Occasionally, with men of specialized talents or qualifications, no alternative to dismissal has been considered safe. In these cases there has at least been a real attempt to cause as little damage as possible to the victim’s future. Here’s one example, which happened a few years ago:

Security officers received, from a police source who had to be kept absolutely secret, unfavorable reports on a man engaged in very secret work. The man’s boss called him in.

“I can’t answer any questions,” he said, “but I want to give you some advice. You have no future here. I can’t promote you. I’ll certainly have to transfer you, maybe fire you.

“My advice is this: write to some

industrial companies that have nothing to do with defense contracts. Tell them you’re fed up with bureaucracy, that you can’t see adequate advancement ahead of you, that you need more money. Tell them to write to me for a reference. If they do, I’ll tell them you’re a thoroughly competent man at your job and that your work has been entirely satisfactory. ’

The man said, “Thanks very much,” did as he was told and got a better job than he’d had with the Government. For all I know he still has it—I don’t know who he is, nor does anybody else except the two or three people who know the whole story.

I recounted this example of the Canadian security system to several American friends; none of them liked it. One said, “It’s not fair to the man’s new employer.” Another said, “It’s not fair to the man—he’s being pushed out on pure suspicion, no charge against him, no accuser, nothing. What happens if he says he won’t do it? If lie demands to know why he’s being fired?”

In this case he didn’t—but it’s a good question. Canada has no machinery whereby a civil servant can have a formal appeal against this kind of thing. If a suspect tries to fight there is no way that he can win.

Perhaps a more serious point about the Canadian system or lack of system was raised by a senior civil servant who’s had a lot of experience with security cases.

“We think our system works beautifully,” he said, “and so do the Americans, so far. They keep telling us how quiet and efficient we are. But the truth is, we’re operating mostly on faith; we don’t really know whether we have the problem under control or not. The Mounties do their best but they’re overworked and understaffed and they can’t check everybody. We might have a spy case, even a Hiss case, blow right up in our faces some day.”

If that ever happens we shall really face the question, “Can McCarthyism happen here?”

Individual Not Protected

No machinery for a Canadian McCarthy exists now. We have no Parliamentary committee even remotely like the three which hunt Reds in Washington. However we could create one at short notice if we got into a panicky mood. Parliament could any time it liked adopt John Blackmore’s resolution and set up an inquisition aimed at “conceivable” Communist infiltration.

In that event Canadians would have no fixed constitutional safeguard like the U. S. Bill of Rights which lays down certain things that no agency of government can do to a citizen. Our constitution protects the rights of the provinces against Ottawa, and vice versa, but it doesn’t protect the individual Canadian against either.

Given a high enough pitch of hysteria, parliament could enact laws granting extraordinary power to government and police agents, power to do things nobody can do in the United States.

Rut one constitutional safeguard we do have is that parliament must enact the law. (The 1945-46 investigation, and the authority to hold suspects without trial, rested on the War Measures Act which is no longer in force.) There is no possibility that a Canadian McCarthy could do what his prototype has done, and become a tremendous sinister power against the will of both major parties, all constituted authority and a majority of the people.

If Canada ever has a McCarthy he won’t be a lone wolf. Under our parliamentary system he could not succeed merely by defying the Government. Directly or indirectly he’d have to capture it.

So McCarthyism could happen here, yes—but not quite as it has happened to our neighbors. Not in spite of us; not against our will. So long as most Canadians continue to believe in personal freedom, in the right of a man to face his accuser and be tried in the open—so long, we needn’t worry much about McCarthy. But if we ever grow smug about our freedom or careless of our rights, there is nothing in our constitution or our law to guarantee us against the kind of justice that is symbolized by the Senator from Wisconsin, it