Canada in the Cold War

Canada in the Cold War

Canada played a middle power, and an occasionally important, role in the Cold War. Throughout the US/Soviet rivalry, Canada was normally on the side of the United States and the West. However opposition to the Vietnam War and Canada's relationship with China and Cuba, along with the Prime Ministership of Pierre Trudeau often had Canada at odds with its western neighbours.

Early Cold War

There was never any doubt early on as to which side Canada was on in the Cold War. The cultural, economic, and historical ties with the United States and the United Kingdom were extremely strong. Canada lined up with its allies in opposition to the Soviet Union from its inception in 1917, supplying troops to fight a counter-revolution. On the domestic front, the Canadian state at all levels fought vehemently against what it characterized as the "red menace." Specifically, Canadian and business leaders opposed the advance of the labour movement on the grounds that it was a Bolshevik conspiracy during the interwar period. The peak moments of this effort were the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and the anticommunist campaigns of the depression, including the On-to-Ottawa Trek. The formal onset of the Cold War, usually pegged with the 1945 defection of a Soviet cipher clerk working in Ottawa, Igor Gouzenko, was therefore a continuation and extension of, rather than a departure from, Canadian anticommunist policies.

Canada was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Canada was, in fact, one of its most ardent supporters and pushed (largely unsuccessfully) to have it become an economic and cultural organization in addition to a military alliance.

Fears of Communist subversion

Igor Gouzenko's revelations of systematic Soviet espionage in the West shocked both the public and world governments. The King government, however lagged in its response, and initially refused to give Gouzenko an audience, leaving the initiative to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Member of Parliament Fred Rose and fellow Communist Sam Carr were imprisoned for their espionage activities as a result of Gouzenko's information. The RCMP, meanwhile, had found a peacetime niche for its political division, the RCMP Security Service. (Prior to the war, the RCMP conducted political surveillance on labour and the left through its Criminal Investigation Department).

Following a Royal Commission on Soviet espionage headed by Robert Taschereau, the RCMP began a widespread programme of purging perceived security threats from the civil service and the military, which included removing suspected Communist sympathizers and homosexuals. The RCMP even developed a device called the "Fruit machine" to test if a man was homosexual. Those fired would not even be told why they had been let go, and were told a variety of lies. In addition to the purges, an elaborate screening process for the civil service was also implemented by the mounties.

The United States wished the Canadian government would go further, asking for a purging of trade unions, but Canada saw this as American hysteria, and left the purge of trade unions to the AFL-CIO. The American officials were especially concerned about the sailors on Great Lakes freight vessels, and, in 1951, Canada added them to those already screened by its secret anti-communist screening program. The Communist Party of Canada had not been outlawed since Section 98 was repealed in 1935, unlike in the United States.

Nonetheless, Canada was not immune to the anti-Communist hysteria that had afflicted the United States. On April 4, 1957, Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, E. Herbert Norman, leaped to his death from a Cairo building after the United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security re-opened his case and publicly questioned his loyalty to Canada and to the United States, despite his having been cleared several years earlier, first by the RCMP in 1950, then again by the Canadian minister of external affairs, Lester B. Pearson, in 1952. Pearson, backed by outrage across the country, sent a note to the US Government, threatening to offer no more security information on Canadian citizens until it was guaranteed that this information would not slip beyond the Executive branch of the government.

The possibility of a security breach was raised again, this time in the House of Commons, with Munsinger Affair in the 1960s.

Despite its comparatively moderate stance towards Communism, the Canadian state continued intensive surveillance of Communists and sharing of intelligence with the US. It played a middle power role in international affairs, and pursued diplomatic relations with Communist countries that the US had severed ties with, such as Cuba and China after their respective revolutions. Canada argued that rather being soft on Communism, it was pursuing a strategy of "constructive engagement" whereby it sought to influence Communism through the course of its international relationships.


It was during the Cold War period that Canada began to assert the international clout that went along with the reputation it had built on the international stage in World War I and World War II.

In Korea, during the Korean War, the moderately sized contingent of volunteer soldiers from Canada made noteworthy contributions to the United Nations forces and served with distinction. Of particular note is the effort of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry contribution to the Battle of Kapyong.

Canada's major Cold War contribution to international politics was made in the innovation and implementation of 'Peacekeeping'. Although a United Nations military force had been proposed and advocated for the preservation of peace vis a vis the U.N.'s mandate by Canada's representatives Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his Secretary of State for External Affairs Louis St. Laurent at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in June 1945, it was not adopted at that time.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, the idea promoted by Canada in 1945 of a United Nations military force returned to the fore. The conflict involving Britain, France, Israel and Egypt quickly developed into a potential flashpoint between the emerging 'superpowers' of the United States and the Soviet Union as the Soviets made intimations that they would militarily support Egypt's cause. The Soviets went as far as to say they would be willing to use "all types of modern weapons of destruction" on London and Paris - an overt threat of nuclear attack. Canadian diplomat Lester B. Pearson re-introduced then Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent's UN military force concept in the form of an 'Emergency Force' that would intercede and divide the combatants, and form a buffer zone or 'human shield' between the opposing forces. Pearson's United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) - the first peacekeeping force, was deployed to separate the combatants and a cease-fire and resolution was drawn up to end the hostilities.

Canada-U.S. tensions

To defend North America against a possible enemy attack, Canada and the United States began to work very closely together in the 1950s. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) created a joint air-defence system. In northern Canada, the Distant Early Warning Line (Dew Line) was established to give warning of Soviet bombers heading over the north pole. Great debate broke out while John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister as to whether Canada should accept U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory. Diefenbaker had already agreed to buy the BOMARC missile system from the Americans, which would be useless without nuclear warheads, but balked at permitting the weapons into Canada.

In the 1963 Canadian election, Diefenbaker was replaced by the famed diplomat Lester B. Pearson, who accepted the warheads. Further tensions developed when Pearson criticized the American role in the Vietnam War in a speech he gave at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. See also Canada and the Vietnam War.

Canada also maintained diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution.

Canada also refused to join the Organization of American States, disliking the support and tolerance of the Cold War OAS for dictators. Under Pearson’s successor Pierre Trudeau, US-Canadian policies grew further apart. Trudeau removed nuclear weapons from Canadian soil, formally recognized the People's Republic of China, established a personal friendship with Castro, and decreased the number of Canadian troops stationed at NATO bases in Europe.

Forced relocations

Efforts to assert sovereignty in the High Arctic during the Cold War, i.e. the area's strategic geopolitical position, led the federal government to forcibly relocate Inuit from northern Quebec to Cornwallis Island, Nunavut. The first group of people were relocated in 1953 from Inukjuak, Quebec (then known as Port Harrison) and from Pond Inlet, Nunavut. They were promised homes and game to hunt, but the relocated people discovered no buildings and very little familiar wildlife. [ [ Grise Fiord: History] ] They also had to endure weeks of 24 hour darkness during the winter, and 24 hour sunlight during the summer, something that does not occur in northern Quebec. They were told that they would be returned home after a year if they wished, but this offer was later withdrawn as it would damage Canada's claims to sovereignty in the area and the Inuit were forced to stay. Eventually, the Inuit learned the local beluga whale migration routes and were able to survive in the area, hunting over a range of 18,000 km² (6,950 mi²) each year. [McGrath, Melanie. "The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic". Alfred A. Knopf, 2006 (268 pages) Hardcover: ISBN 0007157967 Paperback: ISBN 0007157975] .

In 1993, the Canadian government held hearings to investigate the relocation program. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called the relocation "one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Canada". [ "The High Arctic Relocation: A Report on the 1953-55 Relocation" by René Dussault and George Erasmus, produced by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, published by Canadian Government Publishing, 1994 (190 pages) [] ] The government paid $10 million CAD to the survivors and their families, but as of 2007 has yet to apologize. [cite news
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Having lost most traditional skills and purpose, its Inuit residents are now to a large degree dependent on government support. The whole story is told in Melanie McGrath's "The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic" [Alfred A. Knopf, 2006 (268 pages) Hardcover: ISBN 0007157967 Paperback: ISBN 0007157975] .

End of the Cold War

Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan had a far closer relationship, but the 1980s also saw widespread protests against American testing of cruise missiles in Canada's north.

When the Cold War ended, Canada, like the rest of the west, was delighted. The Canadian Forces were withdrawn their NATO commitments in Germany, military spending was cut, and the air raid sirens were removed in Ottawa. The Diefenbunker, Canada's elite fallout shelter, was turned into a tourist attraction. Canada continues to participate in Cold War institutions such as NORAD and NATO, but they have been given new missions and priorities.

In addition, Canada may have played a small role in helping to bring about glasnost and perestroika. In the mid-1970s, Alexander Yakovlev was appointed as ambassador to Canada remaining at that post for a decade. During this time, he and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau became close friends. Trudeau's second son, Alexandre Trudeau, was given the Russian nickname "Sacha" after Yakovlev's.

In the early 1980s, Yakovlev accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the Soviet official in charge of agriculture on his tour of Canada. The purpose of the visit was to tour Canadian farms and agricultural institutions in the hopes of taking lessons that could be applied in the Soviet Union, however, the two began, tentatively at first, to discuss the need for liberalisation in the Soviet Union. Yakovlev then returned to Moscow, and would eventually be called the "godfather of glasnost" [] , the intellectual force behind Gorbachev's reform program.



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