John Watkins (Canadian diplomat)

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For other uses, see John Watkins (disambiguation).

John Watkins (1902 - 12 October 1964) was an educator and Canadian Ambassador to the USSR (1954-1956). Born at Norval Station, Ontario, Watkins was a Scandinavian specialist at the University of Manitoba before joining the Department of External Affairs in 1946.

First posted to the USSR in 1948, Watkins learned Russian and developed a wide circle of Russian friends. He was allowed to travel to places barred to other foreigners. In 1955 he organised a historic meeting between Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester B Pearson and Communist Party chief Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1964 Watkins was secretly detained in a hotel in Montréal, Quebec by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the US Central Intelligence Agency who were concerned that he was an agent of influence. He died several days into the interrogation. (The official obituary/coverup claimed he suffered a heart attack in the company of friends during a farewell supper celebrating his illustrious career.)

The events of his death were exposed by Ian Adams in 1980. The Parti Québécois government swiftly ordered an inquest into Watkins' death. The RCMP refused to hand over the full report, claiming it would damage national security, but finally admitted Watkins had died under police interrogation in the Montréal hotel room, he had not given in to Soviet blackmailing tactics, and he was not a traitor.

In 1999 Adams released Agent of Influence, a detailed book suggesting the CIA schemed to destroy Pearson (who had become Prime Minister) and tried to get Watkins to implicate him. The book was made into a movie for television with the same title in 2002 starring Christopher Plummer.

Watkins and his friend fellow diplomat Herbert Norman were the inspiration for "Harry Raymond", the central character in the 1995 Timothy Findley play The Stillborn Lover.

References[edit]

  • Adams, Ian. Agent of Influence: A True Story Toronto: General, 1999.
  • Watkins, John. Moscow Dispatches: Inside Cold War Russia Toronto: Lorimer, 1987 ISBN 1-55028-028-7.