Tue, October 7, 2003

Retired Canadian intelligence officer tries hand at Sask municipal politics

MOOSE JAW, Sask. (CP) - Six years after he was named as the operative in a bogus spy scandal involving Quebec separatists in Washington, retired lieutenant-colonel Ray Taylor is out in his small-town Saskatchewan neighbourhood shaking hands and kissing babies.

He has emerged from his shadowy life as a highly-decorated, top-ranking intelligence officer with the Canadian military to try his hand at politics. He is seeking a seat on Moose Jaw city council in provincewide municipal elections later this month. "I've just have one of those lives that you read about in books - honest to God," Taylor said during an interview in his home. "I've really had a wonderful life. I have a lot more to contribute and right now I see that as being down at city hall."

Taylor's military resume is extensive, though most of the details are classified.

He specialized in intelligence from 1970 until his retirement in 2002 and served in some capacity in almost every conflict Canada or its allies were in during that time - from the Falkland Islands in the early 1980s to the civil war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

On the wall in his den hangs a commander's commendation from the air force that he received in 1993 and a U.S. Legion of Merit, the highest American award a non-American can receive, that he was given in 1999.

"I've never considered myself a spy. I've never used that term. I consider myself a military intelligence officer and that is all it is," Taylor said.

"I like to out-think the other bastards. There are very few jobs where you get a real mental challenge and you literally have to put yourself in the other person's boots and anticipate what he is going to do."

Ironically, the alleged separatist spy ring that Taylor is most publicly known for is barely a footnote as far as he is concerned.

The supposed existence of the ring surfaced in February 1997 through a lawsuit filed by a U.S. intelligence analyst who was suing his own government. The lawsuit contained allegations that Taylor was sending his underlings to dig up information on Quebec's representative in Washington at the time.

When the story hit the headlines, the Bloc Quebecois called for an inquiry, but the government denied there was any spying going on. Things calmed down a few days later when the American who made the original allegation backed down.

"My feeling was much to-do about nothing," said Taylor, who, until this point, remained silent on the matter.

"It was not true. There was nothing to get excited about but the press was running with this. It was out of control.

"You could argue that, had I gone in front of the cameras, that would have slowed it down or shut it down, but then we would have been in the position as being seen as interfering in a U.S. litigation and you can't do that.

"We were caught between a rock and a hard place."

Taylor's military service is not lost on the people of Moose Jaw. Mayor Al Schwinghammer said residents are privileged to have someone like him on the ballot.

"They are aware of his background in the military and they are aware of his background in intelligence," Schwinghammer said. "They are aware that he is highly decorated and highly thought of."

After more than 30 years in the intelligence field, Taylor said he doesn't see the switch to municipal politics as odd.

The only difference between solving the problems of the world and solving the problems of a city is the scale, he suggested.

"I've always been a crusader. I tackle problems. Does it trouble me, that leap from dealing with ambassadors and secretaries of state and Chinese communists to worrying about the speed limits in Moose Jaw?

"No. That's history."