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Do lawyer's files hide JFK secrets?

Bloomfield papers. Montreal lawyer’s widow asks federal archives to seal husband’s documents for at least 25 more years

by Elizabeth Thomspon
THE GAZETTE

Does the key to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy lie buried in Canada’s national archives?

Or is it another secret that has pitted Montreal researcher Maurice Philipps against Library and Archives Canada and the widow of a once prominent Montreal lawyer, Louis Mortimer Bloomfield?

One thing is certain. Whatever Bloomfield’s widow is trying to keep under lock and key – out of concern for “privacy and the reputation of Louis M. Bloomfield” – it has left Canada’s national archives wrestling with a dilemma that goes to the heart of the question of who controls access to private documents donated to the federal government.

A recent federal court ruling found the institution cannot arbitrarily extend the restriction on access to Bloomfield’s papers well past the original deadline set by Bloomfield himself. Now, the archives is struggling to decide when to lift the veil of secrecy on papers that have been judged of exceptional interest to Canada.

“We are in the process of reviewing the whole issue and, upon having completed that review, we will make it known,” Francois Gagnon, spokesperson for Library and Archives Canada, said yesterday.

Gagnon could not say how long that review is expected to take.

However, Bloomfield’s nephew says he sees no reason to keep the papers shielded from public view. Montrealer Harry Bloomfield says the fight to keep his uncle’s papers behind a veil of secrecy probably is fuelling conspiracy theories tying Bloomfield to JFK’s assassination – theories he says are completely unfounded.

“There was this amazing world of conspiracy theories that somehow landed on my poor late uncle who was completely … horrified that anyone would ever (suspect that), after an amazing, long, highly prestigious, highly proper, fine career as a lawyer in Canada and the world,” said Bloomfield, one of only four people authorized under his uncle’s instructions to view the restricted papers. “It is total, absolute nonsense. I don’t think there is anything about his papers that will prove anything otherwise.”

Bloomfield said his uncle had nothing to hide and his aunt, who asked that the papers be kept under lock and key, has been estranged from the Bloomfield family since his uncle’s death.

“A natural reaction by Mrs. Cartier, who is an extremely private person, may have bolstered the idea that there is something to hide. If they must be shown, then let them be shown. I am sure he would have been delighted and proud of his career.”

At the centre of the controversy are 31 boxes of documents that Bloomfield donated to the archives a few years before his death in 1984. A well-known lawyer who specialized in international law, Bloomfield was a pillar of several Montreal charities, including the Reddy Memorial Hospital and the Canadian Human Rights Foundation.

In addition to correspondence with many prominent Canadian politicians and with George Bush Sr., the collection includes documents relating to a variety of charities in which Bloomfield was active, cases in which he was involved, such as the attempt to bring Romanian King Carol to Canada as a refugee in the Second World War and papers related to some of his clients, such as letters of Lady Henrietta Davis and her husband, Sir Mortimer Davis.

The one condition Bloomfield placed on the donation was that public access to the papers would be restricted for 20 years after his death. Members of the public who wanted to consult the Bloomfield Collection would have to obtain the permission of Bloomfield’s widow, Justine Stern Bloomfield Cartier.

Philipps, author of the book De Dallas a Montreal, which explores a possible Montreal connection to JFK’s 1963 assassination in Dallas, stumbled on a reference to the Bloomfield connection in the mid-1990s and was intrigued – particularly given allegations advanced by some JFK conspiracy theorists that tied Bloomfield to the shooting, a company called Permindex, the CIA and the agency that preceded it, the Office of Strategic Services.

While the conspiracy theory connection between Bloomfield and JFK’s assassination is a complex one and has evolved over time, it appears to stem from the fact he was named as a major shareholder in a shadowy international company called Permindex. Among the other people involved in Permindex was Clay Shaw, whom New Orleans district-attorney Jim Garrison suspected was part of a conspiracy to murder the president. There are also allegations Permindex was a front or shell company for the CIA and was used to funnel money for intelligence operations.

Some of the theories allege Bloomfield had been recruited into the OSS and that he had ties to intelligence circles – something Harry Bloomfield vehemently denies.

While Philipps does not believe the papers implicate Bloomfield in the shooting – in fact, he believes they may clear Bloomfield’s name – he believes they could contain clues that could help shed light on JFK’s assassination:

“I think we will find information on people other than him … but I don’t think that Mr. Bloomfield was directly linked to that in a criminal way.”

In 2004, however, just as the 20-year restriction was coming to an end and Philipps applied in writing for access to the collection, he was told the archives had extended the restriction on access at the request of Mrs. Bloomfield, who was still alive, until 25 years after her death.

“I am concerned about certain privacy issues and the reputation of Louis M. Bloomfield,” she wrote in a letter to the archives dated Aug. 31, 2004.

The letter does not say what in Bloomfield’s papers might risk harming his reputation. When chief archivist Ian Wilson rejected his request to review the decision, Philipps took his case to court, saying the archives should respect Bloomfield’s own wishes for a 20-year delay. Philipps pointed out part of the archives’ mandate is making Canada’s documentary heritage available to Canadians and that Bloomfield had got a tax deduction for his donation.

Philipps also argued Bloomfield must have wanted the papers to be available eventually to the public – pointing out if he didn’t want them to be seen by Canadians, he could have easily left them to his family or to his law firm.

Lawyers for the archives argued the terms of Bloomfield’s donation allowed his widow to extend the length of the restriction. While Bloomfield’s conditions meant that the papers had to be restricted for 20 years, they argued the question of whether to grant access after that lay within the powers of the chief archivist, powers that the archivist needed in order to negotiate with private donors to obtain documents of interest to Canada’s history.

In his ruling, rendered in November and made public this month, Judge Simon Noel ruled the donor’s original wishes should be taken into account and the archives’ view that Bloomfield’s widow had a right to revise the terms of the restriction on his papers was an error in law.

While the archivist should have some power of discretion over whether archives documents should be available to the public, the decision to restrict the Bloomfield Collection until 25 years after his widow’s death was an unreasonable one, Noel ruled. He ordered the archives to review the decision.

Reached in Cambodia, where he is travelling, Harry Bloomfield said he has no doubt his uncle’s papers would be of interest to scholars.

“People lead interesting, fascinating, complicated lives. My uncle was de
lighted and honoured to leave his papers to the Canadian archives,” he said.

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