Joseph Brean, National Post · Monday, Oct. 18, 2010
The former CSIS mole who was a leader of the white supremacist Heritage Front until his cover was blown by a newspaper investigation in 1994 has re-emerged, under a new name, at the centre of controversy in Monday's municipal election in Edmonton.
Grant Bristow, now known as Nathan Black, botched a "prank" on two local officials this month by posing as an American journalist investigating corruption in the planned closure of Edmonton's small city airport.
Claiming to be from the "Seattle Hill Times," he was exposed when the men each called the Seattle Times and learned the names he gave — Darren Holmes and Darren Foster—are not reporters. He has since been kicked off a volunteer mayoral campaign, and disavowed by the pro-airport advocacy group Envision Edmonton.
In 1994, a government review praised Mr. Bristow for his role as a CSIS informer in the Heritage Front debacle, in which he became a top authority in the Toronto-based racist group, even as it grew into a major security threat through clashes with anti-racist groups and the schemes of its leader, the late Wolfgang Droege.
He fled Toronto after he was exposed by Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy, and has lived ever since as Nathan Black, and given occasional media interviews.
Mr. Bristow, a pro-airport advocate who ran Envision Edmonton's unsuccessful campaign to get the airport on Monday's ballot, describes his calls to Councillor Amarjeet Sohi and Sid Hanson, a former chairman of Edmonton's airport authority, as "RadioShack espionage" inspired by the "black ops manual of Frank magazine."
In an interview, he described how he used a device called a Magic Jack to route his calls through a number in Seattle, and divert calls back to his phone in Edmonton.
"I did it for the purpose of, if I could get a jewel, I would start floating it to the media," he said.
"I was hoping to ferret out that this group [Yes For Edmonton, which supports the planned closure of the airport, represented by Mr. Hanson] didn't just magically appear, that it was, you know, somehow connected to the regional airport authority, which are the people trying to close down the airport, and that developers were behind it and all that kind of stuff."
His second big exposure — this time by his own hand — is a remarkable tale of vicious local politics and clever deception, with dead-end trails through cyberspace, phony phone numbers, and pseudonyms layered over pseudonyms, all tracing back to a 52-year-old former spy who is dying of metastasized throat cancer.
At root, it is about a one-runway city airport, slated to close as soon as it can be re-developed, and its role in getting patients from northern Canada into Edmonton's hospitals.
Mr. Bristow, who has been undergoing intense cancer treatment, said he wants the airport to keep operating "because I have a newfound respect for health care." He said it brings patients from the North directly into Edmonton, in close proximity to emergency facilities for cancer, cardiac care, burns and transplants.
"Northern Albertans and Northern Canadians deserve that kind of access. You close down that airport and take them out to the international [about 25km south of the city centre], and if a helicopter can't fly to take a patient, and there's a snowstorm, that patient could die in an ambulance. That's why I'm passionate about it," he said.
He said the scandal began early this month, when a new group, Yes For Edmonton, emerged to advocate in favour of the airport closing during the election.
Mr. Bristow said he called their phone number, and reached the offices of a prominent land developer, leading him to suspect a link. He said he called back, posing as Darren Holmes, to request an interview.
Sid Hanson, a former chairman of Edmonton's airport authority, called him back. Mr. Bristow said he put on an American accent inspired by "the white supremacist I hated the most, e late Jesse Benjamin "JB" Stoner, a top Alabama white supremacist.
He said the call drew on all his skills of ingratiating himself and eliciting useful information, and he claims Mr. Hanson described Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel as a driving force behind Yes For Edmonton.
Mr. Hanson did not return a call on Sunday, but told the Edmonton Journal he thought he was answering another question — whether Mr. Mandel's vision of the city was inspiring. He said the mayor has no role with his advocacy group.
Mr. Bristow then pulled the same "prank," as he calls it, on a councillor who had voted to close the airport.
"He was extremely upset about that. To me it seemed odd. Why should a journalist be so biased to one issue?" said Amarjeet Sohi, who is running for election.
He described Mr. Black as aggressive, making statements rather than questions.
In a statement on Sunday, Mary Anne Stanway of Envision Edmonton said Mr. Black is "very passionate and dedicated to the airport issue" but "is strictly a volunteer and holds no official position with the Society ... Mr. Black acted on his own, without knowledge or approval from the Board."
Also this weekend, Edmonton mayoralty candidate Dave Dorward, for whom Mr. Black was a volunteer, told reporters he condemned the deception, said Mr. Black was kicked off his campaign.
"I would never be involved in such a thing and I had no knowledge of it," Mr. Dorward said.