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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

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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