The Munsinger Affair was Canada's first national political sex scandal. It focused on Gerda Munsinger, an alleged East German prostitute and Soviet spy living in Ottawa who had slept with a number of cabinet ministers in John Diefenbaker's government.
Most noted amongst these was the Associate Minister of National Defence, Pierre Sévigny, who had seen her since 1958 and had even signed Munsinger's application for Canadian citizenship. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) discovered her background, however, and informed Justice Minister E. Davie Fulton of her activities. She was deported to Germany in 1961. The matter was dealt with behind closed doors and Sévigny resigned in 1963.
Possible security breach
After the Gouzenko affair, matters of Canadian national security were not usually made subject of public debate. In 1966, however, the Liberal government came under attack for a security breach involving two Soviet diplomats and George Victor Spencer, a Vancouver mail clerk, who had been caught collecting information for the Soviet Embassy. On March 4, John Diefenbaker called Liberal Justice Minister Lucien Cardin "a dwarf in giant's clothing" for his handling of the Spencer case. Cardin rebutted the Tories by bringing up Munsinger's name in the House of Commons. Cardin believed Munsinger was dead, but aimed to criticize Diefenbaker's handling of the case five years earlier.
Munsinger was not dead, however, and was tracked down and interviewed in Munich by Toronto Daily Star reporter Robert Reguly. She freely admitted her numerous affairs with government officials to the Canadian media. The story dominated the media for weeks and was followed with rapt attention across the country. It became a massive distraction and all but shut down all other parliamentary activity for some weeks.
A Royal Commission was eventually held, and in his report, Supreme Court Justice Wishart Spence criticized the Diefenbaker government's handling of the case but found no criminal wrongdoing or security breach.
Possibly in a move to divert attention from the Munsinger affair, Prime Minister Lester Pearson started a public debate on capital punishment, which would be formally abolished in Canada a decade later.
The newsmagazine series This Hour Has Seven Days was one of the major news organizations involved in covering the scandal, and when that series was cancelled by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) just weeks after the Munsinger Affair broke, it was believed by some observers that the show's dogged pursuit of the story had been one of the real reasons for its cancellation.
- RMCP, Canadian Encyclopedia
- CBC Archives: Politics, Sex, and Gerda Munsinger
- He accidentally mispronounced her name as "Munsignor," but it was clear to whom he was referring. CBC Archives: Politics, Sex, and Gerda Munsinger
- Reguly was awarded the National Newspaper Award for his work on the story that year.