The “Canadian Caper” was the popular name given to the joint covert rescue by the Canadian government and the CIA of six American diplomats who had evaded capture during the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran, and taking of embassy staff as hostages by Islāmic students and militants on November 4, 1979.
The “caper” involved CIA agents joining the six diplomats to form a fake film crew. They supposedly finished scouting for an proper location to shoot a scene for the sci-fi film Argo. The charade was carried off on the morning of Monday, January 28, 1980. The eight Americans successfully boarded a Swissair flight to Zürich (Switzerland) and escaped Iran.
There were two groups of diplomats that fled into Tehran’s streets with orders to walk to the British Embassy.
The first group, which included Consul General Richard Morefield, took an indirect route and was soon captured and returned to the compound.
The second group neared the British embassy but saw a huge crowd staging a protest in their path. So Robert Anders invited the others to his home, as he lived nearby.
That began a six-day odyssey as the group went from house to house. After three days, Anders contacted his old friend John Sheardown, a Canadian immigration officer, and received an enthusiastic invitation for the entire group. On November 10, they arrived at the Sheardown residence. The six were now in hiding and would remain there for 79 days.
The operation itself was initiated at great personal risk by Ken Taylor and John Sheardown, and their families, as they provided sanctuary in their own private residences for the endangered American diplomats.
Ambassador Taylor contacted then Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Flora MacDonald, and Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, for help. They expressed support for the effort. They decided to smuggle the six Americans out of Iran on an international flight using forged Canadian passports.
After the six American guests left on Monday, January 28, 1980, the Canadian embassy closed that same day. Taylor and the remaining staff returning to Canada. The six Americans arrived home on January 30, 1980.
The six rescued American diplomats:
Robert Anders, 54 – Consular officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agricultural attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular assistant
Officially, U.S. President Carter had falsely insisted that all the 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 many American television personalities and ordinary people alike, with Taylor a particular focus of attention. The Canadian flag was flown across the US, along with “Thank You” billboards.
In 1981, a television movie about the Canadian Caper was made, Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper, directed by Lamont Johnson, with Ken Taylor and John Sheardown played by Gordon Pinsent and Chris Wiggins, respectively. The film was filmed in and around Toronto, which the cast and crew nicknamed “
The film Argo, loosely based on the event, was released in US theatres on October 12, 2012. In the film, the role of John Sheardown and his wife Zena was omitted for reasons of length and cost.
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