Government documents

Modern state bureaucracies produce thousands of types of documents, several of which are represented on this site. Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation reports are especially prominent. Using them means paying attention to the conditions in which they were produced. In the 1950s, the RCMPís Special Branch, which attended to issues of national security, was still a small section of the force. RCMP members almost never had formal education beyond high school. This meant that when RCMP officers Terry Guernsey and George McClellan faced Herbert Norman across an interrogation table, men with high school educations and relatively limited personal knowledge of the world faced a scholar with a PhD who had lived and traveled in several countries. What would have been going through the minds of each of the people involved in the very lengthy interrogations whose transcripts are reproduced here? Since the RCMP Special Branch was a small unit without considerable depth in security intelligence, it also tended to look up to, pattern itself on, and rely on intelligence from its older and larger fellow agencies in Great Britain and the United States. This was particularly important during the Cold War, when the West was seen as facing a monolithic and ruthless Soviet intelligence apparatus. How do you think this affected the orientation of the RCMP members who investigated Norman? As for the FBI, like the RCMP it combined criminal and security intelligence functions. But the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, who had headed the bureau since 1924, had a long-term interest in security cases. In the Cold War these were very high profile, and Hoover kept a close rein on all such matters.

Another type of government document found frequently in the site is diplomatic correspondence. Records of this type that are reproduced here include telegrams, letters and reports. Diplomacy is often seen as synonymous with discretion, caution, and tact. This is evident in the diplomatic writing included here. Governments rely on their diplomats to provide objective information about events in a foreign country. Much can hang on nuance. A misunderstanding can trigger international embarrassment. No less than accurate reporting, the skill of the best diplomats undoubtedly revolves around interpretation. Putting events in context and explaining their meaning require intelligence and insight. At its best, such work is akin to art.

Canadian diplomacy at this time also faced the unique problem of negotiating the treacherous waters of the Cold War, which required attention to both enemy and friend. Every Canadian diplomat must have constantly been aware not just of how his or her report would play in Ottawa, but also what it might say about the relations between Ottawa and Washington. This was particularly true for the diplomatic reports filed by Herbert Norman from his sensitive locations in Tokyo and Cairo. Much weight was attached to every word in a diplomatic report, and Normanís were reputed to be among the best of the genre.

Properly speaking, Government Documents do not include the transcripts of the debates in the House of Commons, commonly known as Hansard. A government is, in the Canadian system, made up of one political party. But several parties are represented in the House of Commons. In order to limit the number of different types of documents in Death of a Diplomat, we have decided to consider the House of Commons debates transcripts as Government Documents. A good number of the statements by members of parliament recorded in Hansard are formulaic in the extreme. But times of high drama, such as the days following the death of Herbert Norman, can also be moments of intense political debate. In this case, the politicians were well aware that Canadians had been shocked by Normanís death and wanted to know what had caused it. In those days of early April 1957, we saw both posturing and passion as politicians strived to enunciate the feelings of Canadians. The fact that a federal election was just two months away (June 10, 1957) also made members of parliament rather quick to aim for the jugular.