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 Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1964 Watkins was secretly detained in a hotel in Montreal, Quebec, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the US Central Intelligence Agency, who accused him of being an agent of influence. He died several days into the interrogation. However, the official obituary claimed Watkins had suffered a heart attack in the company of friends during a farewell supper celebrating his illustrious career.

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

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

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

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