The revelation this week that a man by the name of Nathan Black was behind a blog seeking to lend support to keeping open Edmonton’s City Centre airport came as a shock to many in the Capital region. Yet more readers might be surprised to learn that this is not the first time Black has interfered in a political race. In fact, his political involvement has in all likelihood extended into St. Albert.
Todd Babiak’s stories in Friday and Saturday’s Edmonton Journal revealed a blog called Darrensbigscoop, in which the author claimed to be a Seattle Times freelance reporter, was a fake. He also revealed that Black, who has denied writing any of the contents of the blog, posed as a Seattle Times reporter for phone interviews with Edmonton city council candidates and members of the group Yes for Edmonton, which is in favour of closing the airport.
Babiak’s commendable work only touched the surface of who Black really is. While other news media outlets have made brief mentions of his past in picking up the Journal story, the fact of the matter is that Black is an identity bestowed to a man named Grant Bristow, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s, worked as a CSIS mole inside the white supremacist organization The Heritage Front. His subsequent “outing” by the media led to a public uproar as some in the media claimed Bristow was a top leader of the group, and that he used money CSIS gave him to help run the group. An investigation into the Heritage Front affair by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) absolved Bristow of wrongdoing.
CSIS gave his entire family new names, hence the name Nathan Black, and transplanted them to St. Albert, where he was unmasked again by the media. The white supremacist movement, angered by his actions with CSIS, posted photos of him and his house on the Internet. Once the furor again died down, Black faded away into relative anonymity. But it appears that politics soon became his calling.
In 2006, member of Parliament John Williams, who had served the St. Albert and north Edmonton area since 1993, retired from politics. At the time, I was covering the federal beat for the Gazette and subsequently reported on the race to replace Williams as St. Albert’s MP. The candidates were Brent Rathgeber, Scott Thorkelson, John Kennair and Tina Busse.
During the race I started receiving anonymous phone calls from an individual who would not give his name or phone number. This man was looking to spread unpleasant information about Rathgeber, none of which was either verifiable or true. After an interview with Kennair, I learned that a man named Nathan Black was working on Scott Thorkelson’s campaign. I knew who that was, but at the time found it unremarkable. Yet as a result of more phone calls, several more interviews and even meeting Black at the nomination meeting and comparing it to a photo of Black posted online, I became convinced that Black was the man who had been calling in an attempt to smear Rathgeber, who won the Tory nomination. I asked Thorkelson to have this individual call me. I never received a response and Thorkelson tragically died of a massive heart attack on May 19, 2007.
The Gazette never had enough confirmation to decisively conclude that Black was the man behind the phone calls, but the similarities between his activities with The Heritage Front and now the Edmonton City Centre airport have all the hallmarks of that voice on the other end of the phone almost four years ago. While Bristow did the country a service infiltrating The Heritage Front and reporting on its activities, the purpose of Black’s activities since — both real and alleged — are questionable.
Peter Boer is an editor with the St. Albert Gazette and author of Canadian Security Intelligence Service.