The CSIS spy who co-founded Heritage Front neo-Nazi group
A fence post and smokestack led the Star to Grant Bristow, alleged agent provocateur
Find the fence. Follow the fence. Find the spy.
That’s not terribly sexy work in the world of investigative journalism, but it is, in this stranger-than-fiction episode, the truth of how, in 1995, I tracked down Grant Bristow, a government agent who had infiltrated the Canadian neo-Nazi group, the Heritage Front.
Bristow was now in hiding after allegations surfaced that the CSIS mole had instigated and funded many of the criminal acts he was supposed to be monitoring. He cofounded the hate-mongering Heritage Front and allegedly drew up lists of targets for the group, encouraging its members to spy on and harass prominent Jewish leaders, all while on the government payroll.
After he was outed, the government took its spy in from the cold and hid him, allegedly for his protection. Finding Bristow had become an obsession among the ultracompetitive Toronto media.
Now, courtesy of a source, I had a photograph of the disgraced spy, sitting in the backyard of his new house somewhere in Canada. Beside him, by a pinkish-white stucco post, a pair of crutches to one side.
If I could find that fence, I could find Bristow.
I had worked on the Bristow case for months, chasing multiple, fruitless sightings. I had compiled quite a bit of information on Bristow’s time inside the Heritage Front, even his visit to Libya as a guest of Moammar Gadhafi, but I had drawn a complete blank as to his current whereabouts. Then came the lucky break. A man walked into the Star newsroom carrying photographs of Bristow, his wife and son, which he claimed had been taken at their new hideout, somewhere out west, possibly Calgary or Edmonton. CSIS had given Bristow a new identity, a new home and two brand-new cars, he said.
One piece of information that would prove invaluable in my search for Bristow was that he was getting treatment at a hospital very near his home, after breaking his leg while learning to ice skate.
The source said he thought the facility was called Sturgeon or some other big fish.
The most important of the photos was one that showed Bristow, who had been careful not to pose in front of his new house, sitting in front of that unmistakable pinkish stucco post.
I asked the Star darkroom technicians to enlarge the photos, focusing on the stucco post and a large smokestack in the distance. I would use these as my landmarks.
At the World’s Biggest Bookstore on Edward St. (this was before the Internet), I bought detailed street maps for both Calgary and Edmonton. The map of Edmonton contained the neighbouring town of St. Albert. Sturgeon General Hospital was listed there. I was on my way to Edmonton that afternoon.
Thinking that I might need to stake out this spy, I asked the rental company for a van with dark tinted windows. The only one they had was a bright, cherry-red minivan. No tinted windows. I took it.
I put the enlarged photos of the fence, the post and the smokestack beside me on the passenger seat and charted the quickest route to Sturgeon Hospital.
As I neared the facility I noticed that the fence surrounding a new subdivision looked a lot like the one in the Bristow photograph.
I followed the fence into the Evergreens of Erin Ridge subdivision and I spotted it, two houses in from the corner: The pinkish stucco post.
Barely 40 minutes out of the Edmonton airport and I had found Bristow.
Driving past the front of the house, I saw two brand-new Fords in the garage bearing near-identical licence plates.
The next morning, I was staking out the house when a red Aerostar pulled out. I kept down and saw a man that looked like Bristow. I gave chase. Unaware that I was tailing him, Bristow stopped briefly at a convenience store to pick up a newspaper and a coffee, then drove to the Sturgeon General Hospital and disappeared inside.
When Bristow walked out the front door an hour later I quickly snapped a dozen frames. Then I jumped out.
“Hi, Mr. Bristow. Dale Brazao, Toronto Star.”
Bristow instinctively covered his face with the newspaper, said nothing, and then limped as fast as he could back into the protection of the hospital.
My exclusive on Bristow would share the front page of the Star the next day with the horrific bombing of an Oklahoma City government building that left 168 dead.
Years later, Bristow called me at the Star saying he was writing a book and wanted to know how I had found him.
I told him I was saving that information for my own book.