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Researchers try to shed light on secret Canadian Cold War archive

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  • OTTAWA — The prime minister’s bureaucrats are hoarding a trove of decades-old records that chronicle Canada’s Cold War intelligence history, say security researchers who are pushing to make the files publicly accessible.

    They’re puzzled as to why the Privy Council Office has not handed the extensive collection — which touches on everything from Iron Curtain defectors to possible Soviet invasion — to Library and Archives Canada for preservation and public release.

    “I think Canadians have a right to understand their history,” said Alan Barnes, a senior fellow at the Centre for Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. “To allow the government to hide this history away for their own convenience, it defeats the whole purpose of having an archival system.”

    Barnes cites the importance of government transparency in urging people to sign an online parliamentary petition to the prime minister aimed at ensuring people will be able to see the documents.

    He became aware of the records while serving in the Privy Council Office’s intelligence-assessment secretariat, where he worked from 1993 until his retirement in 2011.

    The records were invaluable to historian Wesley Wark when he was asked in the late 1990s to write a classified history of the Canadian intelligence system in the decades following the Second World War.

    A draft of the book-length study was disclosed through the Access to Information Act in 2005, though considerable portions — including an entire chapter — were deemed too sensitive to release.

    Wark’s project provided some unusual glimpses of Canada’s post-war intelligence efforts.

    The study revealed that Ottawa accepted some 30 defectors from Soviet and Communist Bloc diplomatic and consular missions between 1945 and 1952, and that Canadian spies secretly analyzed Soviet movies during the Cold War in the hope of gleaning useful intelligence.

    Barnes has recently made requests under the federal access law for various records in the Privy Council archive, but has largely been met with delays and denials, prompting him to lodge complaints with the information commissioner.

    Many of the old paper documents are of great historical significance but have not been preserved or handled properly, said Wark, who teaches at the University of Ottawa. “They sit moldering away.”

    The Privy Council Office was never meant to serve as a perpetual archive of important documents and none of these records has “any conceivable contemporary operational use,” Wark said. “But PCO has guarded them as a fortress and constructed impenetrable walls to any researcher brave enough to tackle Canada’s access legislation.”

    Privy Council Office spokesman Stephane Shank said the agency is reviewing records to ensure classified information is not improperly released before transferring them to Library and Archives.

    The review includes more than 8,000 pages of minutes and other documents related to federal cabinet papers, including some documents from the security archive, Shank added. However, he did not say what would become of the many remaining intelligence records in the archive.

    The petition, which can be found at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2025, has been signed by over 200 people. It requires 500 signatures by June 11 to receive certification for presentation to the House of Commons.

    “The petition offers the right solution,” Wark said. “PCO must let go its iron grip on these records and transfer them to Library and Archives Canada where they can be properly preserved, indexed and made available to future generations of researchers.”

    — Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

    Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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    PEI Green party candidate John Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — Prince Edward Island’s Green party has suspended campaigning for Tuesday’s provincial election, citing the sudden death of one of its candidates.

    The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his young son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

    Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of their deaths.

    “Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

    Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

    The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

    The RCMP issued a statement Saturday saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

    Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair.

    Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

    Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

    Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

    Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

    According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

    “I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    PEI Green party candidate Josh Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — With only a few days before voters were to go to the polls in Prince Edward Island, the Green party suspended all campaigning Saturday after the sudden death of one of its candidates and his young son.

    The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

    Voting day is Tuesday.

    Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has been leading in the polls, issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of Underhay’s death.

    “Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

    Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

    The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

    The RCMP issued a statement saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

    Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair.

    Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

    Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

    Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

    Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

    According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

    “I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”

    Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King issued a statement saying the tragic loss of Underhay and his son marked “a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.”

    “It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” King said. “Josh was a dedicated teacher and community leader who had a love for life and a passion for people. He was an advocate, talented musician and friend to many.”

    The Green party has been leading in opinion polls since August, but the race remains too close to call when the margin of error in recent surveys is factored in.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on Tuesday, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    The close numbers have also raised the possibility of a minority government, which would mark a historic moment for the Island. The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    The Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including King, who was elected in February.

    However, the party enjoyed a boost in the polls the following month, leaving them in a virtual tie with the Liberals.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

    The Canadian Press


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