A cryptic case: Canadian spies seek own cemetery in the national capital
Published Tuesday, February 17, 2015 11:11AM EST
People are shown placing Christmas wreaths on grave stones in Beechwood cemetery during a ceremony for Wreaths Across Canada, honouring military veterans, in Ottawa on Dec. 1, 2013. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service wants to create a national burial site at the cemetery for its employees. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- It looks like one of Canada's most historic graveyards is about to get a little, um, spookier.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service wants to create a national burial site for its employees at Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery.
The intelligence service and a society representing many former spies have approached Beechwood about reserving part of the venerable resting place for CSIS members and their families.
The cemetery, a short drive east of Parliament Hill, already has dedicated sections for the RCMP, National Defence and Ottawa police.
These areas are "an impressive and touching tribute to the service and sacrifices of Canada's men and women in uniform," CSIS director Michel Coulombe said in a letter to James Patterson, Beechwood's director of family services.
A CSIS-specific section would be a "welcome and appropriate addition" to the cemetery, Coulombe said in the July letter, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"A preliminary survey indicated a significant amount of interest among employees in purchasing a plot," Coulombe wrote following a May meeting between Patterson and backers of the plan.
"The success of the endeavour will rely on careful and detailed planning of the site and monument."
Coulombe suggested further discussion of the cemetery's offer of help in setting up a charitable fund to which people could donate money for the "development of and improvement to" the CSIS National Memorial Cemetery.
The project is "still at the initial stages," said CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti.
Established in 1873, Beechwood is the burial place of luminaries including prime minister Robert Borden, physicist Gerhard Herzberg, NDP leader Tommy Douglas and poet Archibald Lampman.
Six years ago, Parliament declared it the National Cemetery of Canada.
All current and former employees, regardless of their job classification, would be eligible for burial in the CSIS cemetery, said Don Mahar, national president of the Pillar Society of spy service retirees.
Mahar already has a stone at Beechwood featuring the crests of former employers the RCMP, CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment -- Canada's electronic spy agency -- along with his wife's nursing school crest.
If CSIS employees were also former members of the RCMP Security Service, dissolved in 1984 when CSIS was created, they may choose to be buried in either the RCMP or CSIS cemetery, said Mahar, a driving force behind the project.
Other possibilities include moving the existing stones of still-living members to the planned new CSIS section, or creating a special space for those who served with both the RCMP and CSIS, he added.
All who participate will be responsible for the purchase of their plot, gravestone and engraving, with no government subsidization, Mahar said.
No CSIS member has died in the performance of their duties in Canada or abroad, despite the dangers they face, he noted.
"But the reality is that this could certainly change. Similar to the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, the men and women of CSIS wish to have a national memorial site where they and their family members can be laid to rest with colleagues."
Mahar hopes an agreement between CSIS, the Pillar Society and the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation will soon be ready for signing.
"That will be a proud moment for us."