Our Times 3

From Cold War to Counter-Terrorism: A Canadian Case Study

Blog Archives

Comparisons between terrorism and the red scare are omnipresent today. That’s largely because the comparisons are telling. A clear parallel can be drawn between Canada’s Cold War policies and its post-September 11 doctrine. This brief piece relays one such parallel, but the similarities in both policy and practice are compelling.

In September, 1945 Igor Guezenko, “a cipher clerk in the Soviet Embassy,” revealed the existence of a spy ring in Canada. On October 6, 1945, under the War Measures Act, acting Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent secured an Order-in-Council to apprehend suspected participants in the spy ring and detain them. “The RCMP complied, took the suspects to their barracks at Rockcliffe, refused to allow them to contact their relatives, and refused them any legal services or advice during their prolonged interrogation” (Warnock 15). Eighteen were officially charged, and only eight were found guilty in court.

Sixty-one years later in 2006, eighteen suspected terrorists known as the “Toronto 18” were charged for their suspected involvement not in spy rings, but terrorist groups. Charges against four men were stayed, and the “Toronto 18” has become the “Toronto 11.” The irony is palpable as the number of suspects veers closer to 1945 figures. Like the 1945 spy case, government action “was denounced in the House of Commons and by civil libertarians across Canada” (15). Members of the suspected spy ring were also denied basic rights. Not surprisingly, “Toronto 18” court proceedings skipped preliminary hearings and moved directly to trail. “Toronto 18” detainees were placed in solitary confinement 23.5 hours a day for nearly two years, and some remain in confinement. Lastly, the spy ring was arrested under the War Measures Act. The “Toronto 18” were arrested under the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-36, a bill often compared to the War Measures Act. This is only a cursory glance, but the parallels are clear.


Warnock, John W.. Partner to Behemoth: The Military Policy of a Satellite Canada. Toronto: New Press 1970.

Browse the Archive