[ RCMP-FBI relations formalized in 1937 ]

RCMP-FBI relations formalized in 1937, Unknown, 1937, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 7718, RCMP Commissioner James H. MacBrien (left) visited FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in Washington in 1937 to set up the liaison that saw officers from each force stationed in the headquarters of the other

R.C.M.P. Historical Section,
Ottawa, 1978.

The controversy over the security case of Canadian Ambassador to Egypt Herbert Norman was over the disposition of information passed by the R.C.M.P. to the F.B.I. The exchange itself was of course nothing unusual. For all the assistance received from the F.B.I. by the R.C.M.P., the R.C.M.P. had reciprocated with security information about individuals in Canada apparently conducting subversive or espionage operations with American significance, about Canadian residents applying for security sensitive position in the United States or at U.S. bases in Canada. [Access to Information Act deletion — 3 lines] The problem of control over dissemination of information beyond the two agencies normally conducting the exchanges (the F.B.I. and the R.C.M.P.) to other government branches, or of either agency seeking more detailed information from sources beyond the other’s actual report, was well known and carefully watched by the R.C.M.P. In Herbert Norman’s case the privacy surrounding the provision and use of exchanged security information broke down in the United States.

The first time the issue of Norman’s security status arose publicly was in 1951, when Norman was acting Head of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations. This was the period of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s rampage against suspected Communist influence in the U.S. government and armed forces. In the course of proceedings of the Senate Sub-Committee on Internal Security, charges by certain witnesses were made public that Norman had once had Communist associations. In fact, extensive R.C.M.P. investigations late in 1950 had revealed a good deal of ambiguity in the evidence: [RCMP] Special Branch findings were reported to the Department of External Affairs, which was left to make the final judgement on the continuation of Norman’s career. The decision was obviously to retain Norman’s services. In March, 1957 the old allegations were again made public by the same sub-Committee, though in this instance there was some confusion about whether the American State Department muffed its normal opportunity to stop the publicity.

As the Canadian External Affairs Department, and its Secretary of State, Lester B. Pearson, denounced “these slanders and unsupported insinuations,” the continued publicity, the possibility of another gruelling security investigation, and the pressure of work in one of the world’s greatest trouble spots of the time caused Norman to take his own life on April 4. The drama in Canadian-U.S. relations had escalated to tragedy. The main Canadian response was to try to find an effective way to be belligerent, and so force changes in U.S. procedure to eliminate all possibility in the future of such revelations which constituted interference in Canadian affairs. In the aftermath of Norman’s suicide — and here the R.C.M.P. Commissioner was involved in discussions — Pearson resolved to deliver a sharp note to the U.S. government containing a threat to withdraw provision of security information on Canadian citizens unless the United States guaranteed no passage of information to branches of the government beyond Executive control. Since Pearson could not be dissuaded, despite the undoubted fact that Canadian security would suffer at least as much as American should security liaison break down, Commissioner Nicholson had to consider possible repercussions with External Affairs officials and the Minister of Justice. For one thing, the Senate Sub-Committee had access to security information derived from R.C.M.P. files about other extremely recognizable high Canadian government officials which could be most damaging if the Sub-Committee decided to retaliate with further disclosures. External Affairs officers raised the possibility that in this eventually the R.C.M.P. would be asked to attempt to secure F.B.I. permission to publicize damaging evidence about well-known Americans.

This rather pointless kind of successive retribution never did arise. Commissioner Nicholson communicated to J. Edgar Hoover, on the same day as Pearson’s note was delivered to the U.S. government, his continued complete confidence in F.B.I. integrity and a hope for continued cooperation to mutual benefit. Later diplomatic exchanges emphasized the confidence of both governments in the value of R.C.M.P. — F.B.I. security liaison and in the good judgement exercised by those agencies. In the face of the constitutional inability of the United States government absolutely to control the legislative branch, the Canadian government came gradually to accept assurances that in practice no further breeches of confidence would occur. The agencies carried on under their normal procedures, which required permission of the originating agencies if the recipients had reason to pass classified information beyond their governments (executive branches).


Source: Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Security Intelligence Service Access to Information Request, 117-90-107, Carl Betke and S.W. Horall, "Canada's Security Service: An Historical Outline, 1864-1966," 1978, 738-742

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