Professionalism/Canadian Caper


The return of the six American hostages.

On January 16, 1979 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the current Shah, fled Iran after using "secret police" to control the country. On February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini, the former leader of the opposition to the Shah, returned to Iran and took power as leader of Iran. On April 1, 1979, after a country-wide vote, Ayatollah Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Khomeini was named the supreme spiritual leader. [1] Seven months later, on November 4, 1979 Iranian Islamic students stormed the U.S. embassy taking 90 people hostage, 66 of which were Americans. The students were protesting against the Shah being in the U.S. to receive medical treatment for cancer. They demanded the United States extradite the Shah so that he may be put to trial in Iran. Two weeks later, all non-U.S. hostages were released. [2]

There were nine Americans who slid out of a back door on November 4, 1979. Four of the nine were caught and made into hostages. The remaining five Americans moved around the city for the next week before calling the Canadian Embassy. On November 10, 1979, the Canadians began hiding the five Americans. One week later, another American, who was away from the embassy on the day of the takeover, joined the Americans at the Canadian Embassy. [3]

On January 20, 1981, (which was the same day as Ronald Reagan’s inauguration,) the 52 remaining hostages were released, then sent directly to the Tehran airport, and flown to west Germany after their 14 months ordeal of being held in captivity. [4], [5]

Studio Six ProductionsEdit

Robert Anders, one of the six escapees from the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 displays his fake “Studio 6” business card.

Antonio Mendez, a Central Intelligence Agency ex-filtration officer, was put in charge of getting the six Americans out of Iran. He began brainstorming on a way to get the Americans out of Iran. He decided to create a fake production company looking for a location to film. Thus, Studio Six Productions was created. Mendez felt as if a rescue mission consisting of military action was out of the question based on the geographic location of Tehran. Mendez and Jerome Calloway , a Hollywood friend, read through scripts trying to find the best one. They wanted one that was science fiction and took place in the Middle East. Calloway and Mendez finally decided on one script that they renamed 'Argo' after an inside joke between the two men. Calloway helped to set up a fake studio location in Hollywood along with advertisements and press releases. Mendez arrived in Europe on January 22 and arrived in Iran on the morning of January 25th. Mendez and Julio, a second agent sent to aid in the rescue, met the six Americans later that day in the Canadian Embassy. By the evening of January 27th, all documents (passports and embarking slips) were completed, with the help of Kenneth Taylor. The six Americans were quickly learning their parts for the production company even using each other's clothing to make new outfits to help "get into the role." Interrogation tests took place that night to replicate what might happen at the airport. This test helped the Americans better understand their roles and back stories. On Monday morning, January 28, 1980, Mendez, Julio, and the Americans were set to leave Iran through the Mehrabad Airport on a Swissair flight. Clearing security was fairly simple. As the eight began clearing the final security check to board the Swissair flight, a delay of the flight was announced due to mechanical problems. After an hour of waiting, the flight was able to board. By lunch time on January 28, 1980, Mendez, Julio, and the six Americans were safely in Zurich, Switzerland and the rescue had been a success.[6] [7]

Ethical ConsiderationsEdit

Americans showing gratitude to the Canadians

Canadians played central role in the Iran operation. They were not bystanders even to outsiders. Canada's role in the Canadian Caper was revealed three months after they assisted the Americans to safety. The incident brought about an outpouring of pro-Canadian sentiment in the United States.[8] The operation itself was initiated at great personal risk to Canadians and Canadian property. The Canadians did not hesitate to provide support when the repercussions were given. Their professional boundaries extended beyond that of their country as they exemplified courage and integrity.

They were sticking their necks out more than we were. They would be in more trouble for harboring us.[9]

—Robert Anders, Consular Official of the U.S Embassy

Kenneth TaylorEdit

Kenneth Taylor played a crucial role in providing intelligence on the hostage crisis to Canadian and American intelligence agencies.[10] The Canadian Ambassador first heard of the Embassy takeover from his Swedish colleague. He had been head of Canada's Trade Commissioner Service when he was sent to Tehran in 1977 because Iran, under the Shah, was a trading partner of growing importance. Happily, he proved to be more than a salesman. In January 1979, when the Shah's regime was collapsing, he arranged the evacuation of 850 Canadians from Iran. Kenneth Taylor was the right man, in the right job, at the right time.[11] He proved to be a leader once again. Taylor was the mastermind who orchestrated the evacuation process. Taylor helped the six Americans escape by getting them Canadian passports to aid in getting past the Iranian Revolutionary guard. On the evening before the escape, Kenneth Taylor drew a sketch of the interior of Mehrabad Airport terminal to guide the six Americans to safety. Taylor excelled in making sure the Americans were safe all while knowing the operation itself was a great personal risk. Telegrams were sent on Taylor's behalf, as he made sure awareness was spread.

I think we carried it out with a degree of professionalism and more or less in a cool and calculated way.[12]

—Kenneth Taylor, Canadian Diplomat

Taylor agreed to house two of the six Americans alongside his colleague John Sheardown, who agreed to house the remaining four.

John SheardownEdit

John Sheardown, Canada's Chief Immigration Officer, was whom American Official Robert Anders first contacted.[13] Being an old friend to Anders, Sheardown made it his duty to help when Anders asked for shelter. He invited Anders and his colleagues to stay at the home he shared with his wife. Mr. Anders recalls Sheardown’s initial reaction: “Why did you wait so long to call me? Come on over". [14] Sheardown's response knowing confidently that he and Taylor were up to the task:

Hell, yes. Of course. Count on us.[15]

—John Sheardown, Head immigration official

Sheardown and Taylor also offered to take in any and all of Tehran’s foreign correspondents should they get into trouble with the unpredictable revolutionaries. The Sheardowns sheltered four of the six Americans for 79 days in their 20-room home in the heart of Tehran. [16] Housing four persons under one roof is not easy; they had an Iranian gardener and a Filipino maid. During the months they housed the Americans, the Sheardowns took creative precautions to avoid tipping off the authorities. Sheardown had to drive to multiple grocery stores daily and take garbage with him on route to work, to camouflage the amount of refuse they were generating all while being under Iranian surveillance. [17] Mr. Anders even states that it was John who kept their confidence high and who kept them feeling secure through the months.[18] He demonstrated loyalty. “It would have been selfish of us not to do so,” Mrs. Sheardown told the Associated Press. “There weren’t many places to hide in Iran, we had the room, they needed our help and it was just not in John’s nature to refuse help to anyone.”[19]

Flora MacDonaldEdit

Flora McDonald suggested moving the Americans out of Iran, a decision based on Taylor's promptings and warnings. It was a decision that U.S Government officials were putting off. As Canada's formal External Affairs Officer, Flora MacDonald's foresight and persistence set the evacuation plan that Ken Taylor introduced into motion. A move that could have easily failed.[20] Flora MacDonald knew how important it was to help the Americans soon, and as a superior to Taylor she knew it was her duty to make sure Taylor's warnings were being heard. She was non-paternalistic in her obligations as Taylor's superior. MacDonald became a vital point of contact for the American government officials. This was around the time suspicions were escalating and it was essential that a decision be made. One could ask if it was not for Flora MacDonald's persistence and pressure, would the U.S. have proceeded to rescue the Americans in time? We can assume that if she did not speak up when Taylor needed the assistance, the results could have been detrimental for both parties.

Jean PelletierEdit

As The Washington correspondent of the Quebec paper La Presse, Jean Pelletier, had been curious about the situation. He was first alerted by the fact that U.S. officials were referring to different numbers of hostages. He found it hard to believe that the Americans did not know exactly how many people they had in Tehran. Told by the Minister at Canada's Washington Embassy, Gilles Mathieu, that Canada was "the most useful American ally in the crisis," Pelletier assumed that the American escapees were harbored by the Canadians.[21] He approached the Canadian Embassy for confirmation. Canadian Ambassador to the United States Peter Towe, warned Pelletier of the danger to the Americans should the story be broken and urged him to hold off on publication. Pelletier, knew the implications of publishing and had already decided that he would not break the story until the Americans were safely out of Iran. It was a career-making scoop, and Pelletier’s managing editor wanted it in his newspaper right away.[22] His colleagues also did not agree with his conclusion. Pelletier refused:

You can't just simply apply your principle of publish-and-be-damned to each and every situation, regardless of circumstance. [23]

—Jean Pelletier, News reporter

As a professional who demonstrated true integrity, Pelletier managed to convince his managing editor and team, to agree not to publish immediately.

Less ethical journalists might not reach the same conclusion.[24]

—Peter Towe, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S.

Generalizable LessonEdit

There were many Canadians involved in the rescue of the six American hostages. While Kenneth Taylor's work and effort claimed him fame and multiple awards in the U.S, the others stood out as unsung heroes. It is important to see that each individual impacted one another in some way. One could not do it alone. This display of international co-operation shows that as professionals, it is important to have courage and integrity. Without these traits, the Canadians would have been bystanders allowing the Americans to be captured. What direct reason did they have in interfering with such circumstances? We knew how much they could lose, but what would they gain? Kenneth Taylor and John Sheardown took on this mission out of loyalty to an old friend. Flora MacDonald agreed that it should be top priority, even though it did not concern Canada and Jean Pelletier proved even the small task could have huge outcomes.

The Secrecy EffectEdit

Jean Pelletier had the news scoop of a life time. He could have exposed the six Americans at the Canadian Embassy and sky rocketed his career. Instead, he realized the significance of keeping this story under wraps for the safety of the Americans and Canadians alike. By keeping the story of the Canadians harboring the Americans, Jean Pelletier showed true professionalism. He put his job aside and stood up for what was right and necessary at the time. Through his integrity, the Secrecy Effect is found, or the ability to do stand up for what is right, even when you are pressured.

The Canadian EffectEdit

The Canadians in this story showed true professionalism. Kenneth Taylor and John Sheardown were putting their lives on the line to help protect five random individuals not including Roberts Anders who was an old friend. This was made a bit easier with the approval of their superior, Flora McDonald who was putting the country's reputation on the line. Through their courage and loyalty, the Canadian Effect is found, or the ability to do the right thing with no fear of consequence. The Canadians were going above and beyond by taking in the six Americans without any questions and caring for them until they were once again safe.


  1. Iran Chamber Society. (2013). Islamic revolution of 1979.
  2. 1979: Militants storm US embassy in Tehran. (2005, November 4). BBC News.
  3. Wald, M. (1980, February 12). Iran embassy escapee says 8 fled with him but 4 were captured. The New York Times.
  4. Weismen, S. (1981, January 20). Reagan takes oath as 40th president; promises an 'era of national renewal'. The New York Times.
  5. Johnson, S., & Johnson, S. (2013, March 11). Frozen in time: Eerie pictures inside the . Mail Online.
  6. Mendez, A. & Baglio, M. (2012, September 17). The true story behind operation ‘Argo’ to rescue Americans from Iran. The Daily Beast,
  7. Mendez, A. Central Intelligence Agency, Historical Document. (2008). A classic case of deception.
  8. 1980: Canadian Caper helps Americans escape Tehran (n.d.).
  9. Iran Embassy Escapee Says 8 Fled With Him But 4 Were Captured (Feb. 13, 1980).
  10. Former Canadian Ambassador Admits To Spying For CIA (2010).
  11. Ken Taylor and the Canadian Caper (2012).
  12. The Gazette - Ken Taylor says Canadians played central role in Iran operation. Retrieved from
  13. The Canadian Caper.
  14. Iran Embassy Escapee Says 8 Fled With Him But 4 Were Captured (Feb. 13, 1980).
  15. The Canadian Caper.
  16. IBT - John Sheardown Dies; Canadian Diplomat Who Sheltered Americans In Iran Hostage Crisis Did Not Appear In 'Argo'. (2013)
  17. John Sheardown, Canadian Diplomat Who Saved American “Argo” Hostages in Iran, RIP. (2013)
  18. Iran Embassy Escapee Says 8 Fled With Him But 4 Were Captured (Feb. 13, 1980).
  19. IBT - John Sheardown Dies; Canadian Diplomat Who Sheltered Americans In Iran Hostage Crisis Did Not Appear In 'Argo'. (2013)
  20. The Windsor Star (March 28, 1981) - Iran Rescue: Our Bashful Heroes.,3794740
  21. Ken Taylor and the Canadian Caper (2012).
  22. The Canadian Caper.
  23. 30: Thirty Years of Journalism and Democracy in Canada : The Minifie Lectures, 1981 - 2010 (pg. 343)
  24. Ken Taylor and the Canadian Caper (2012).