The Munsinger Affair

Spy or refugee? How Gerda Munsinger got caught up in Canada’s first national political sex scandal.

Text by Canada’s History

Posted April 29, 2014
Black and white photograph

Unlike the United States, which has a long history of political sex scandals, Canada has had relatively few instances of its politicians becoming embroiled in embarrassing behavior.

One exception was the Munsinger affair. Gerda Munsinger was an East German woman living in Canada in the 1960s who became intimately involved with two cabinet ministers. The fact that she was suspected of being a spy made the situation front-page news.

Historian Allan Levine wrote about the Munsinger affair in the June-July 2014 issue of Canada’s History. Here is an excerpt from his story:

Lucien Cardin, the Liberal minister of justice, was in a foul mood on March 4, 1966. Like most members of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal Cabinet that spring, Cardin was feeling the pressure of being in a minority government rocked by scandal. For weeks, the Opposition had been accusing him of trampling on the civil rights of a Vancouver postal clerk who was suspected of spying.

Finally, following yet another tongue-lashing by John Diefenbaker, Cardin snapped back that the Conservative leader should not be lecturing anyone about dealing with security issues —“and I’m not kidding,” he added.

“I want that on the record,” retorted Diefenbaker. “I understand the right honourable gentleman said he wants that on the record. Would he want me to go on and give more?” asked Cardin. Some of the members shouted their approval. “Very well,” Cardin continued. “I want the right honourable gentleman to tell this house about his participation in the Monseignor case when he was prime minister of the country.”

Reporters in the press gallery immediately perked up. They wondered: Who or what was “Monseignor”? And so began the unveiling of one of the most notorious political sex scandals in Canada’s history.

Listen to this ballad by the Brothers-in-Law, called OH OH Canada, from their Expose 67 album.

Click here to see an hour-long CBC documentary made as the scandal was unfolding in 1966.

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