Russian spies still active in Canada

You would think that the collapse of the Soviet Union would mean the end of the Cold War and of Russian espionage activities in Canada. It wasn’t the case. They threaten to intensify with the war in Ukraine. Especially since Vladimir Putin, a former member of the KGB (Committee on State Security, the USSR’s main secret service), is now master of the Kremlin.

• Read also: Well-kept secrets at the Russian consulate

Since 1991, several illegal or dormant Russian spies have been arrested posing as Canadian identities. Undoubtedly identified by the indictment of defectors from the civil and military secret services of the Russian Federation.

In intelligence jargon, spies who trade under false identities, with no diplomatic status, are called “illegal”. In general, so-called sleeping illegals are tasked with lengthy missions that aim to infiltrate the targeted country to the highest level.

It can take decades for these “sleeping agents” to penetrate political, diplomatic, military or scientific institutions to access classified information that is sought, or act as agents of influence in ruling circles to favor Moscow.


In June 1996, a divorcing Toronto couple, Ian Mackenzie Lambert and his wife Laurie Brodie, were accused by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) of being illegal agents who had been operating Russians in Canada since 1990. .

CSIS reveals their true identities: Dmitriy Olshevsky and Yelena Olshevskaya. The two spies used the identities of Canadian children who died at a young age. Laurie Brodie, born in Verdun on September 8, 1963, died before her second birthday. Ian Mackenzie Lambert was an Ontario child who died on February 17, 1966, at the age of three months.

The two spies are deported to Moscow. The couple had arrived in Canada separately from Russia in the 1980s. The fake Laurie Brodie then married a Canadian named Peter Miller in a ceremony, attended by her Russian accomplice and ex-husband.

And, in a curious twist, the spy attempted to return to Canada in 2006 to live with her new husband. Elena Miller, with her new name, claimed to have resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (SVR), but refused to talk about her espionage activities. Ottawa declined his request.

The Millers had the audacity to challenge the decision. The Federal Court confirmed it. The verdict underlined that as a Russian spy, she could hardly expect preferential treatment from the country she had abused so grossly.


On November 14, 2006, a few weeks after the case was closed, another illegal Russian spy was arrested at Dorval airport while preparing to fly to Eastern Europe. Paul William Hampel lived in Montreal under his false Canadian identity for over ten years.

The SVR agent, who presented himself as a professional photographer, used Montreal as a base for espionage activities in the Balkans.

The Federal Court agreed to protect his true Russian identity in exchange for his admission of guilt and ordered his deportation to Moscow. Canada treats Russian spies surprisingly leniently in hopes that the Russians will do the same.

That was not the case in 2019, when British-Canadian Paul Whelan was sentenced in Russia to 16 years in prison for espionage.

Revenge of a cheated man

Secret Trinity Base is located in Halifax Harbor.  Second Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle (in mortise) worked there.

Google Street View and stock photo

Secret Trinity Base is located in Halifax Harbor. Second Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle (in mortise) worked there.

The most recent case of Russian espionage in Canada is that of Canadian Navy Second Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, working at the top-secret maritime electronic monitoring base Trinity in Halifax Harbor.

Delisle sold information to the Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU) in the largest theft of classified documents in Canadian history.

This spy case starts with marital infidelity. Delisle claims he decided to betray his country to sell Canadian secrets to Russia after he caught his wife cheating on him with their neighbor. Curious revenge action.

Between 2007 and 2012, on the tenth day of each month, Delisle transferred military and civilian secrets to the Russians over the Internet. In total, he received $71,000 from the GRU. His first $10,000 was spent on expensive earrings in a failed attempt to convince his wife to rejoin him.

Ottawa noticed nothing. Nearly five years after his betrayal, it was the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that notified the RCMP and CSIS of Delisle in 2011.

In February 2013, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In many countries he would have been sentenced to death. Benefiting from an incredible indulgence, Jeffrey Delisle regained his complete freedom in March 2019.

The probation commission decided that he was not at risk of recidivism.

The Gouzenko Affair Launches the Cold War

Igor Gouzenko.

Photo courtesy, Wikipedia

Igor Gouzenko.

While historians continue to debate the exact moment when the Cold War began, no one disputes that the famous “Gouzenko affair,” which took place largely in Montreal, played a major role in its outbreak.

A few weeks after the end of World War II, Igor Gouzenko learned from the Soviet embassy in Ottawa that he would be repatriated to Moscow. He then decides to defect with his family. On September 5, 1945, he left the embassy with the secret messages he had sent to Moscow for years about Soviet espionage activities in Canada.


He wanders through Ottawa for two days. He goes to the newspaper ottawa burger where he is told to go to the police.

Gouzenko instead goes to the Ministry of Justice, which has been closed for a day. That night, he and his family sleep with his neighbor whom he has befriended. Just before midnight, four men from the Soviet embassy break into her apartment in search of her. He calls the police who arrive, quickly followed by the RCMP. Prime Minister Mackenzie King will then be informed.

That Mackenzie King wanted to hand him over to the Russians first so as not to upset Stalin is one of the horrific aspects of this story. Fortunately, the prime minister was urgently advised to ensure the protection of Gouzenko and his documents through a phone call from British intelligence, which had been alerted by the RCMP.


In addition to wiping out Russian spy networks in Canada, Gouzenko’s revelations to the RCMP will disrupt similar networks in the United States and Britain. Kellock-Taschereau’s Royal Commission of Inquiry will reveal how Russian spies got their hands on key Canadian technological secrets.

In the Gouzenko case, money played no part in recruiting Canadians to spy for Moscow. They are motivated by ideological reasons.

In Canada, the Soviets were assured of the support of members of the Communist Party, its affiliates or front organizations, and their sympathizers. Progressives (whom Lenin called “useful idiots”) and communists wanted to help the “homeland of socialism” and its leader Joseph Stalin in its struggle against capitalism. The investigation will result in the conviction of 18 people for violating the Official Secrets Act on behalf of the USSR. In the UK, nuclear physicists Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May are sentenced to hard labour. Nunn May had handed over experimental uranium samples to the Russians that he had stolen from the lab at the University of Montreal where he was working on developing nuclear weapons.


The most spectacular conviction in the Gouzenko affair was that of Fred Rose, the only Communist MP ever elected to the House of Commons. He represented Cartier’s Montreal riding and then focused on the Mile-End. Born in Lublin, Poland in 1907, Rose attended the city’s French-speaking Jewish high school before his family emigrated to Canada.

Rose led a network of about twenty spies focused on developing the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, part of the research of which took place in Montreal.

Fred Rose, MP and spy.

Photo courtesy, Wikipedia

Fred Rose, MP and spy.

Rose, who never admitted his guilt, was ousted from the House of Commons and sentenced to six years in prison, which he served in the prison of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. After four and a half years in captivity, he was released in 1951 and unsuccessfully contested the withdrawal of his Canadian citizenship in 1957.

Fred Rose died in Warsaw in March 1983 at the age of 75. An amendment known as the “Fred Rose Amendment” was subsequently made to the Citizenship Act so that such withdrawal of Canadian citizenship could never happen again.

Mysteriously, pages from Mackenzie King’s personal diary about Rose, along with most of the other documents about her case, have disappeared from the former Prime Minister’s records.

Mom and Dad, spies

Elena Stanislavovna Vavilova (Tracey Foley) and Andrey Bezrukov (Donald Heathfield).

Photo Screenshot, FBI

Elena Stanislavovna Vavilova (Tracey Foley) and Andrey Bezrukov (Donald Heathfield).

In 2010, the FBI arrested a few illegal Russian agents in the United States who claimed to be Canadians. They had lived in the Boston area with their two children for about ten years.

The two teenagers then discover that their parents are not actual Canadians, but Russian spies with identities stolen from children who died at a young age.

The KGB introduced the spy couple to Canada in the 1980s. The alleged Tracey Foley gave birth to two boys in Toronto. The couple then moved to the United States. The sons had to accompany their deported parents to Moscow.

The two boys, now called Alexander and Timofei Vavilov, wanted to regain their Canadian citizenship.

The law does not grant citizenship to children born in Canada whose parents are employed by a foreign government, in this case spies employed by Russia! After a legal challenge by one of the boys, Canada’s lenient Supreme Court restored Canadian citizenship to the young men, now 25 and 29.

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