Grant Bristow kept silent for almost ten years about his controversial work as a CSIS spy
in Canada’s neo-Nazi movement. Now, finally, he’s ready to tell his side of the story.
· Illustrations by Britta Lumer. Photographs supplied by Grant Bristow
Bristow and his family decided that they were through running. After spending several weeks in an Edmonton apartment, they returned home to try, once again, to get on with their lives. But Bristow says his marriage never recovered from the exposure of his wife’s identity in Canada’s largest newspaper. The stress and uncertainty of their lives in the aftermath of his covert work finally led to an amicable divorce in 2000.
Last June, Grant Bristow addressed members of the Canadian Jewish Congress at its sprawling headquarters in north Toronto. For days, Bristow had laboured over his speech, knowing it was an opportunity to seek the understanding of a community that still questioned his motives and deeds as a spy. After a kosher buffet dinner, Bernie Farber, the CJC’s executive director for Ontario, ushered the guests into a large adjoining room. Bristow took his place at the head table.
In his half-hour speech, Bristow reviewed the long arc of Operation Governor, and the threat that hate-mongers such as Wolfgang Droege and other white supremacists still posed. He ended by recalling his friendship with Maurice Klagsbrun and his haunting story of loss and remembrance.
The speech was met by sustained applause, muffled weeping and, finally, a standing ovation. Bristow took a few steps back, as if recoiling from the response, while, at the same time, trying to absorb the profundity of the moment.
Professor Irving Abella, a former president of the CJC and a respected historian, spoke next.
“This was a truly historic event,” Abella said. “I think what was most important about this evening was how heroic this man was. Both as a Jew, and an historian, I wish to thank you, Grant Bristow, for your courage in coming forward [and] for the truly important role you played in those risky years of ten years ago.”
Bristow was overwhelmed. He had sought understanding from a people who were and are routinely victimized by the purveyors of hate he had once spied upon. In the end, he received much more. He received their respect and admiration.
A day later, the warm afterglow of his extraordinary meeting with the CJC was extinguished. While enjoying a coffee at a sidewalk café in Toronto’s Beaches district, Bristow noticed a motorcycle slowing to a crawl almost directly in front of him. He bolted from his seat, his face ashen. “It’s Wolfgang,” he whispered to his companion. Bristow’s nervousness subsided only when Droege’s leather-clad frame faded into the distance.
That a single white supremacist can still trigger such apprehension in Bristow is instructive. He knows how much the neo-Nazi movement has changed. He knows that numbers, organization, and high-profile leaders are largely irrelevant to today’s militant white supremacists. Neo-Nazis have altered their tactics. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, they have gravitated to the notion of leaderless resistance, making their ranks more difficult to penetrate. All the extremists require now to vent their hatred with cataclysmic consequences is the will and the opportunity.
Grant Bristow knows, better than most, that the only unknown is how many more Timothy McVeighs are out there, poised to act.