OTTAWA -- Grant Bristow, who infiltrated the white supremacist movement as a paid informant for Canada's spy service, has broken his long silence, saying he took on the unsavoury task because it was "the right thing to do."
Mr. Bristow's comments mark the first time he has publicly discussed his controversial role as an undercover operative for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service since being exposed in the press 10 years ago.
He tells his side of the spy saga in the September issue of The Walrus magazine, due out tomorrow.
The 46-year-old Mr. Bristow, who has long lived in relative quiet under a new name, sat down with journalist Andrew Mitrovica in a drab Edmonton motel room to try to dispel his lingering public image as a hatemonger.
"Now is the time," he told Mr. Mitrovica, "that I can say, 'Not guilty.' " Mr. Bristow says that far from being a racist, he was determined to make the world "a less hateful place."
His mother, Janet, had imbued the young Mr. Bristow with a devotion to civil rights and a respect for all races, the article says. And the harrowing recollections of a family friend who had survived the Holocaust left "an indelible mark" on Mr. Bristow.
His relationship with CSIS began in 1986 when he was working as a private security consultant and a South African diplomat tried to persuade him to spy on Canadian anti-apartheid activists.
On the advice of a friend, he approached the intelligence agency.
"In the nomenclature of spies, Bristow had become an 'asset.' " the article says.
His chance meeting with a member of the extreme right eventually led to Mr. Bristow's central role in Operation Governor, a CSIS investigation of the white supremacist movement.
The racist right had been invigorated by the April, 1989, deportation to Canada of white supremacist Wolfgang Droege, fresh from a U.S. prison sentence for cocaine trafficking and weapon possession.
In October of that year, Mr. Droege set up the Heritage Front, a continental network of racists.
Mr. Bristow lived a schizophrenic existence, working by day as an investigator for a shipping firm and spending evenings and weekends nurturing his ties to the racist right, the article says.
"I was keeping watch over violent hate groups," he said. "It was the right thing to do."
The operation grew troubling when tensions erupted between the white supremacists and anti-racist groups.
Mr. Bristow says he faced an unenviable dilemma. As Mr. Droege's deputy, he couldn't be seen to ignore provocations of the Heritage Front's enemies, the article says. At the same time, as a government-paid agent, he could not promote or countenance a violent response.
"I was walking a very thin tightrope," Mr. Bristow said.
His solution was to co-ordinate and take part in a campaign, with the knowledge and approval of his CSIS handler, to harass key anti-racist activists at home and work.
"I was trying to find a response that didn't include out-of-control, escalating violence," he told the magazine. "If I was wrong in the actions that I took, I must take responsibility for that."
Mr. Bristow's attempts to keep a lid on the violence fell apart in May, 1993, when police, anti-racist activists and about 60 Heritage Front members clashed in a wild melee in downtown Ottawa.
During Mr. Bristow's time inside the racist organization, information he supplied to CSIS led to the arrest and deportation of some white supremacists, the article says.
In early 1994, convinced the Heritage Front was imploding, Mr. Bristow planned to bow out of Operation Governor. A short time later, his involvement was exposed by the Toronto Sun, prompting the operative and his family to go underground.
A 1995 report by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog over CSIS, concluded that Mr. Bristow (not identified by name in the report) played only a small role in the Heritage Front's development despite being part of its inner circle.
The review committee admonished Mr. Bristow for tactics that "tested the limits" of acceptable and appropriate behaviour, but ultimately found Canadians owed him a debt for doing valuable work.