Ken Taylor | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ken Taylor

Kenneth Douglas Taylor, diplomat, businessman (born 5 October 1934 in Calgary, AB; died 15 October 2015 in New York, New York).

Kenneth "Ken" Douglas Taylor, diplomat, businessman (born 5 October 1934 in Calgary, AB; died 15 October 2015 in New York, New York). Joining the Trade Commissioner Service in 1959, Taylor became ambassador to Iran in 1977 and was catapulted to prominence by engineering the "Canadian Caper"; for over two months, he and immigration officer John Sheardown and their wives, at great risk, hid six Americans after the US Embassy had been seized by Iranian revolutionaries and 66 hostages taken. The six four diplomats and two wives happened to not be at the embassy at the time and made their way to the Canadian embassy to seek refuge.

As the hostage drama dragged on, Taylor and the Canadian government began slowly to close the Canadian embassy. Staff left gradually, classified documents were shredded and unclassified material moved to the New Zealand embassy, which had agreed to tend to Canadian interests. Finally, after several delays, on 28 January 1980, the six Americans escaped the country on a Swissair flight to Zurich, posing as Canadian film-makers and using Canadian passports. In bureaucratic parlance, the operation was referred to as an "exfiltration." Taylor was not far behind; he and his remaining staff closed the embassy and left on a flight later that day. The decision to leave on commercial flights, drawing less attention, was Taylor's.

Coming at a low point in America's self-esteem, the news was sensational, and the stylish, gregarious, unorthodox Taylor became an instant celebrity. He received the US Congressional Gold Medal and thousands of other gifts in a 10-month orgy of gratitude. In 1998, it was revealed that the CIA had played a role in planning the escape. After the American embassy was seized, Taylor became the "de facto CIA station chief" in Tehran as the result of a direct request made by US President Jimmy Carter to Prime Minister Joe Clark. In actuality, Taylor was managing a Canadian station that the Americans wanted to join after their own network was destroyed. Taylor managed the CIA agent, code-named Bob, assigned to the operation, and provided intelligence about the situation and hostages at the embassy, and options for getting the six Americans out. The information was provided to the CIA through Ottawa and Washington.

The story of the Canadian Caper has been put on the big screen, most notably in 1981 as Escape from Iran: the Canadian Caper, in which Taylor was portrayed by the iconic Gordon Gordon Pinsent. He was portrayed by another Canadian actor, Victor Garber, in the 2012 film Argo, which was based on the event. Taylor was Canadian consul general in New York, 198184, and then left the public service. He worked extensively in the private sector, serving as a senior executive with Nabisco Brands and as a board member of a variety of companies in Canada, the US and Mexico. He has consulted with clients on issues of political risk, international marketing and strategic accommodation with government agencies.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1980.

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