Canadian caper
The "Canadian Caper" was the popular name given to the covert rescue by the Government of Canada
Government of Canada
The Government of Canada, formally Her Majesty's Government, is the system whereby the federation of Canada is administered by a common authority; in Canadian English, the term can mean either the collective set of institutions or specifically the Queen-in-Council...

 of six American diplomat
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...

s who evaded capture during the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran
Tehran , sometimes spelled Teheran, is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With an estimated population of 8,429,807; it is also Iran's largest urban area and city, one of the largest cities in Western Asia, and is the world's 19th largest city.In the 20th century, Tehran was subject to...

, Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 and taking of embassy personnel as hostages by the Iranians
Iran hostage crisis
The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran in support of the Iranian...

 on November 4, 1979.


Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek, Joseph and Kathleen Stafford and Robert Anders were five of the six diplomats who were harbored and "exfiltrated" from Teheran in 1980. They were working in the consulate, a separate building on the embassy compound, when the students swarmed over the wall. The diplomats fled into Tehran’s streets along with an American who had been getting a visa fixed (he was able to get a plane out of Iran on his own). When the Americans saw the huge crowd before them, Robert Anders asked the others if they would like to come home with him as he lived nearby. That began a 5 day odyssey as they went from house to house aided by the Thai cook Sam. After three days the Bazargan government fell and everyone realized the ordeal would not be over in just a few days. Finally out of money and with no place to stay, Robert contacted his old friend Canadian Immigration officer John Sheardown, his tennis buddy, and on November the 10th they went to the house of John and Zina Sheardown. John was outside watering the sidewalk with his garage door open so the car carrying the Americans could drive in with no one aware of the arrival of the new house guests. Later in the day, Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor arrived and took the Staffords to his residence where his wife Pat was waiting. The other three stayed with the Sheardowns and two weeks later, a sixth, Lee Schatz from the US Agriculture Department, joined the group.He had spent the interim sleeping on the floor at the Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 embassy. They would remain there for 79 days.

The operation itself was initiated at great personal risk by then Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 ambassador to Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, Ken Taylor, and Canadian Immigration officer John Sheardown who provided sanctuary
A sanctuary is any place of safety. They may be categorized into human and non-human .- Religious sanctuary :A religious sanctuary can be a sacred place , or a consecrated area of a church or temple around its tabernacle or altar.- Sanctuary as a sacred place :#Sanctuary as a sacred place:#:In...

 in their own private residences for the six endangered American diplomats. Two “friendly-country” embassy officials assisted as well, and an unoccupied diplomatic residence was used for several weeks.

Ambassador Taylor contacted then Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs
Secretary of State for External Affairs (Canada)
Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs was, from 1909 to 1993, the member of the Cabinet of Canada responsible for overseeing the federal government's international relations and the former Department of External Affairs...

, Flora MacDonald and Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark
Joe Clark
Charles Joseph "Joe" Clark, is a Canadian statesman, businessman, and university professor, and former journalist and politician...

 for assistance, who expressed support for the effort. They decided to smuggle the six Americans out of Iran on an international flight using Canadian passport
A passport is a document, issued by a national government, which certifies, for the purpose of international travel, the identity and nationality of its holder. The elements of identity are name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth....

s. To do so, Canada's Parliament convened its first secret session since World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 to grant permission for an Order in Council to be made for the issuance of Canadian passports to the American diplomats in Canadian sanctuary. The granted passports containing a set of forged Iranian visa
Visa (document)
A visa is a document showing that a person is authorized to enter the territory for which it was issued, subject to permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry. The authorization may be a document, but more commonly it is a stamp endorsed in the applicant's passport...

s prepared by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 that would be used to attempt an escape from Iran.

The CIA enlisted its disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez
Tony Mendez
Tony Mendez is a former CIA technical operations officer. His job was to support clandestine and covert CIA operations...

, to provide a cover story, documents, and appropriate clothing and materials to change their appearance. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

, sending as much as he could in the diplomatic pouch
Diplomatic bag
A diplomatic bag, also known as a diplomatic pouch is a kind of receptacle used by diplomatic missions. The physical concept of a "diplomatic bag" is flexible and therefore can take many forms e.g. an envelope, parcel, large suitcase or shipping container, etc...

, before flying to Tehran with an associate to assist with the rescue. There were alternate passports and identities for a variety of scenarios, but the cover story selected had the six being a Hollywood
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Hollywood is a famous district in Los Angeles, California, United States situated west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Due to its fame and cultural identity as the historical center of movie studios and movie stars, the word Hollywood is often used as a metonym of American cinema...

 crew scouting movie locations. The elaborate back-story
A back-story, background story, or backstory is the literary device of a narrative chronologically earlier than, and related to, a narrative of primary interest. Generally, it is the history of characters or other elements that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start...

 involved a film named Argo, for a Middle-Eastern
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 feel, and a post office box in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 for “Studio Six”, backed by display ads. (The movie scenario was considered one way to get an armed team into Tehran to retake the embassy.)
As the weeks passed, the Americans read and played games, mainly Scrabble
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works provide a list...

, while Taylor made efforts both to fly out non-essential personnel, while sending others on fake errands to both establish erratic patterns and case airport procedures. The tension rose as suspicious telephone calls and other activity indicated the possibility that the concealment was known. Taylor sketched out the escape plan himself using a felt-tip marker.


On January 27, 1980, the American diplomats, now travelling on Canadian passports, boarded a flight for Zürich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

, Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, at Tehran
Tehran , sometimes spelled Teheran, is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With an estimated population of 8,429,807; it is also Iran's largest urban area and city, one of the largest cities in Western Asia, and is the world's 19th largest city.In the 20th century, Tehran was subject to...

’s Mehrabad Airport
Mehrabad International Airport
Mehrabad International Airport is an airport that serves Tehran, Iran. It was the primary airport of Tehran in both international and domestic passenger traffic but has been replaced by Imam Khomeini International Airport in most of its international flights...

. They arrived in the friendly nation safely. The Canadian embassy was then closed that day, with Ken Taylor and remaining staff returning to Canada.

The six rescued American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states...

  • Robert Anders, 34 - Consular Officer
  • Mark J. Lijek, 29 - Consular Officer
  • Cora A. Lijek, 25 - Consular Assistant
  • Henry L. Schatz, 31 - Agriculture Attaché
  • Joseph D. Stafford, 29 - Consular Officer
  • Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 - Consular Assistant

Ambassador Taylor, Sheardown, and their wives, Patricia Taylor and Zena Sheardown, along with embassy staff members Mary Catherine O'Flaherty, Roger Lucy and Laverna Dollimore were awarded the Order of Canada
Order of Canada
The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order, admission into which is, within the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, the second highest honour for merit...

, Canada’s highest civilian award. Zena Sheardown, a Guyanese
Guyana , officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, previously the colony of British Guiana, is a sovereign state on the northern coast of South America that is culturally part of the Anglophone Caribbean. Guyana was a former colony of the Dutch and of the British...

-born British
British nationality law
British nationality law is the law of the United Kingdom that concerns citizenship and other categories of British nationality. The law is complex because of the United Kingdom's former status as an imperial power.-History:...

 subject, would normally have been ineligible, but was awarded the membership on an honorary basis due to the intervention of former External Affairs Minister
Secretary of State for External Affairs (Canada)
Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs was, from 1909 to 1993, the member of the Cabinet of Canada responsible for overseeing the federal government's international relations and the former Department of External Affairs...

 Flora MacDonald
Flora MacDonald
Flora Isabel MacDonald, is a Canadian politician.Born in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, she worked in administration for the Progressive Conservative Party for several years, prior to becoming involved in electoral politics....

. Ambassador Taylor was subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 for his assistance to the United States of America.

Jean Pelletier, Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 correspondent to the Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

 La Presse
La Presse (Canada)
La Presse, founded in 1884, is a French-language Monday-Saturday newspaper published in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is owned today by Groupe Gesca, a subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada. The Sunday version was dropped in 2009.-Description:...

newspaper, uncovered the situation before the “Canadian Caper” had reached its conclusion but refused to allow the paper to publish the story in order to preserve the safety of those involved, despite the considerable news value to the paper and writer. Pelletier’s story ran as soon as he knew the hostages had left Iran, but by exposing the operation, demolished plans by the U.S. to secretly house the six Americans in Europe while the hostage drama continued. The Argo story was blown, but the CIA role was kept secret by both the U.S. and Canadian governments at the time for the safety of the remaining hostages; its full involvement was not revealed until 1997.

Officially, the U.S. had maintained for negotiation purposes that all of its missing diplomats were held hostage, so the rescue came as a complete surprise to the public. American gratitude for the Canadian rescue effort was displayed widely and by numerous American television personalities and ordinary people alike, with Ambassador Taylor a particular focus of attention. The Canadian flag was flown across the U.S., along with "Thank You" billboards.

In popular culture

In March 1980, Mercury Records
Mercury Records
Mercury Records is a record label operating as a standalone company in the UK and as part of the Island Def Jam Motown Music Group in the US; both are subsidiaries of Universal Music Group. There is also a Mercury Records in Australia, which is a local artist and repertoire division of Universal...

 released a spoken-word record by seven-year-old Shelley Looney
Shelley Looney
Shelley Looney is an American ice hockey player. She won a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Looney played collegiately at Northeastern University from 1991–94, winning multiple awards including ECAC All-Star, 1993 ECAC Tournament MVP and ECAC...

, called "(This Is My Country) Thank You, Canada". The record received some airplay and made Cashbox's Top 100 (two weeks at #99) and Billboard Magazine's "Bubbling Under The Hot 100" chart nationally, peaking at #109. (Looney would grow up to play for the US Olympic women's ice hockey team in 1998 and 2002; coincidentally, it was her goal against the Canadians that clinched the gold medal for the USA in 1998.)

In 1981, the Canadian Caper was made into a television movie
Television movie
A television film is a feature film that is a television program produced for and originally distributed by a television network, in contrast to...

 called Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper, directed by Lamont Johnson
Lamont Johnson
Lamont Johnson was an American actor and film director who has appeared in and directed many television shows and movies. He won two Emmy Awards....

, with Ken Taylor and John Sheardown played by Gordon Pinsent
Gordon Pinsent
Gordon Edward Pinsent, CC, FRSC is a Canadian television, theatre and film actor.-Early life:Pinsent, the youngest of six children, was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, the son of Flossie ; originally from Clifton, Newfoundland, and Stephen Arthur Pinsent, a papermill worker and cobbler;...

 and Chris Wiggins
Chris Wiggins
Chris Wiggins is an English actor.He started out as a banker in his home country before he began his acting career in Canada, where he moved in 1952....

, respectively. The movie was filmed in and around Toronto, which the cast and crew nicknamed "Tehranto".

Laura Scandiffio wrote a short story based on this event: ‘Fugitives in Iran’ (2003, Puffin).

In May 2007, it was announced that George Clooney
George Clooney
George Timothy Clooney is an American actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter. For his work as an actor, he has received two Golden Globe Awards and an Academy Award...

 and Grant Heslov
Grant Heslov
Grant Heslov is an American actor, film producer, screenwriter and director.-Early life:Heslov was born in Los Angeles, into a Jewish family and was raised in the Palos Verdes area of Los Angeles. He attended Palos Verdes High School, the University of Southern California along with friend Tate...

 would base their next script together on the Canadian Caper. It is not known whether Clooney will direct or star in the project. Ben Affleck publicised his direction of 'Argo', Clooney's project.

Wired (magazine)
Wired is a full-color monthly American magazine and on-line periodical, published since January 1993, that reports on how new and developing technology affects culture, the economy, and politics...

 ran a story in April 2007 about the Caper.

Further reading

  • Pelletier, J. & Adams, C. The Canadian Caper, Macmillan of Canada 1981, illustrated, 239 pages. ISBN 0-7715-9583-2
  • Joshuah Bearman
    Joshuah Bearman
    Joshuah Bearman is a former staff writer and editor for the LA Weekly. He writes for Rolling Stone, Harper's, Wired, The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, McSweeney's, The Huffington Post and contributes to This American Life. Bearman was a contributing producer on the documentary, The King of...

    . "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran", Wired Magazine, issue 15.05.
  • Department of Foreign Affairs website retrieved 25-01-2008
  • Wright, Robert "Our Man in Tehran", HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 2010, 406 pages. ISBN 978-1-59051-413-9
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