Toronto Star

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.

 ?? DALE BRAZAO/TORONTO STAR ?? Brazao tracked down for­mer CSIS spy Grant Bris­tow us­ing a photo of a pink­ish stucco post as a ref­er­ence.
DALE BRAZAO/TORONTO STAR Brazao tracked down for­mer CSIS spy Grant Bris­tow us­ing a photo of a pink­ish stucco post as a ref­er­ence.

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