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1945: Gouzenko defection exposes Soviet spy ring

The Story


Igor Gouzenko's defection in 1945 is the biggest media sensation since the war. Fearing for his life, Gouzenko goes into hiding but his revelations generate such interest in Soviet espionage that he is eventually coaxed into a rare media appearance. Thirteen years after his defection, Gouzenko agrees to appear on live television for the first time, as a mystery guest on CBC's Front Page Challenge. For security reasons he wears his signature bag over his head.

Medium: Television
Program: Front Page Challenge
Broadcast Date: Feb. 18, 1958
Guest(s): Bob Considine, Igor Gouzenko
Host: Fred Davis
Panellist: Pierre Berton, Toby Robins, Gordon Sinclair
Duration: 11:15

Did You know?


• Gouzenko's defection was nearly a complete disaster. He first went to the Ottawa Journal, but the night editor told him to go to the police. Minister of Justice Louis St-Laurent, mindful of Canada's good relations with the Soviet Union, wouldn't meet with him until his claims were checked out. The RCMP simply assigned two agents to watch his apartment. Fearing for his life, Gouzenko opted to hide out at a neighbour's apartment.

• When four men from the Soviet embassy broke into Gouzenko's apartment looking for him and his documents, Gouzenko was finally taken seriously. The Gouzenkos were granted asylum, and kept for months in a secret location in Whitby, Ontario while the claims were verified.

• Gouzenko's information led to a sweeping investigation and arrests under the War Measures Act. Of 21 Canadians arrested, 11 were convicted. Among them was MP Fred Rose, the only Communist ever elected to Parliament.

• In 1946 The Kellock-Taschereau Royal Commission into Soviet spying in Canada was held to verify Gouzenko's information. It was led by Supreme Court judges Robert Taschereau and R.L. Kellock. The full name was rather unwieldy: the Royal Commission to Investigate Facts Relating to and the Circumstances Surrounding the Communication, by Public Officials and Other Persons in Positions of Trust of Secret and Confidential Information to Agents of a Foreign Power. Gouzenko's testimony filled 6,000 pages. It was not made public until 1981.

• In the years after his appearance on Front Page Challenge, Igor Gouzenko made sporadic secret media appearances to offer his opinions on the activities of the Soviet Union. He spoke out on the 1966 Munsinger Affair, as well as claims that Sir Roger Hollis, a high-ranking British agent who interrogated Gouzenko back in 1945, was actually a Soviet mole.

• Igor Gouzenko lived the remainder of his life with his family in their home near Toronto, living under new identities. He and his wife Svetlana said they were profoundly moved by the quality of life they enjoyed in Canada.

• However, Svetlana Gouzenko said her family always lived in fear. She believed her relatives in Russia ended up either in the Gulag or in front of a firing squad, and claimed that there were several attempts on Igor Gouzenko's life here in Canada.

• Igor Gouzenko was diabetic, and went blind five years before he died of a heart attack in June 1982. He was 63. Gouzenko was buried quickly in an unmarked grave north of Toronto. Apart from his wife and children, only the family lawyer and a journalist were present. His eight children continued living under assumed names.

• Svetlana Gouzenko died in September 2001. A year after her death, the family erected a headstone that made their history public.

• Debate continues over what motivated Igor Gouzenko's defection. His family says it was a desire to help his adoptive country and to expose Soviet wrongdoing. Others say it was greed, or the simple desire to live the good life in Canada.


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