Brian McAdam and his wife, Marie, live in a charming semi-detached home that backs onto a golf course. Aside from the odd errant ball that lands in their verdant backyard, it is an apparent oasis of peace and tranquility.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Ever since the 74-year-old McAdam began informing his former employer, Foreign Affairs, about what he alleged were lax or corrupt practices that were allowing Chinese gangsters to set up shop in Canada, there’s been precious little peace and tranquility in his life.
The former diplomat says his whistleblowing cost him his 30-year career, triggering a deep depression that lasted more than two decades. Most of his former colleagues shun him. He says he’s endured surveillance and death threats so alarming that he once spent $10,000 to wrap his windows in bulletproof film.
As McAdam tells it, his troubles began at a Hong Kong racetrack in 1989, when someone handed him and his wife red envelopes stuffed with cash – about $300 Cdn. He refused the apparent bribe but says he soon learned that many other staff at the Canadian high commission routinely accepted the money.
“I immediately became hated with a passion,” he says. “They were all fearful that I was going to do something that would threaten their jobs.”
McAdam alleges their animosity only grew after he discovered the immigration computer system at the high commission had been compromised and known members of Chinese Triad crime organization were obtaining visas. “I was really ostracized,” he says. “Only three Canadians (at the embassy) would talk to me.”
He says his bosses in Ottawa ordered him to stop sending reports on his findings. He kept sending them anyway. He was labelled an anti-Chinese racist and rumours were spread that he was issuing illegal visas – the very thing he says he was trying to prevent.
Some of his confidential reports, warning that Triad members “infest every immigration category,” were leaked to the Globe and Mail and newspapers in Hong Kong, McAdam says. “That’s when I started to get these intense death threats.”
The threats from Triad crime figures continued for years, even after he was recalled to Ottawa in 1993, ostensibly to take up a new job that never materialized.
“I was told by the director of personnel that I was hated by everybody,” McAdam says. “Nobody wanted me to work for them and the only option I had was to retire early.”
The severe clinical depression came on so quickly he could actually feel his brain chemistry changing, he says. He went on medical sick leave, then retired in 1995.
The depression hit hardest in the early years. “He didn’t drive a car for two years, he wasn’t able to think very well, and he was very over-drugged by medication,” his wife, Marie, recalls. “It was very tough.”
Some days, McAdam slept for 20 hours. Other days, he barely slept at all. He became agoraphobic and never wanted to leave the house. For a year and a half, he was wracked by suicidal thoughts. “I had some really horrible moments,” he says. “I’d wake up saying, ‘I want to kill myself.’”
Marie’s unwavering love and support helped him survive. “We did everything together and I figured, ‘I have to stand by him,’” she says. “He never was psychotic or delusional. He was just very depressed and very stunned that people would do that.”
She never doubted that his warnings of Triad infiltration were accurate. “I believed him, because he’s an extremely ethical person. And he didn’t lie and wouldn’t lie.”
The couple paid a steep financial price. Though Marie continued to work, McAdam’s income stopped and his pension was dramatically reduced. Many friends abandoned them. “They didn’t want to know after a while,” says Marie. “It becomes a lonely world.”
To maintain some normalcy in her life, Marie hosted dinner parties at their home every second Saturday night. If fatigue overtook her husband in the middle of dinner, he’d just go to bed.
To give McAdam a purpose and some company, Marie bought him a seven-week-old Bichon Frise puppy. The dog, who they named Fluffy, lived for almost 17 years. “She was so good for him. He was able to go for walks three times a day and meet neighbours.”
The dog was a lifesaver, McAdam agrees. “My whole life I’d had incredibly stimulating work. Suddenly, I had nobody to talk to.” That changed when Fluffy entered his life. “She had a profound effect on my rehabilitation to feeling normal again.”
The journey to recovery gained momentum three or four years ago, when he asked his doctor to take him off the anti-depressant drug Wellbutrin. Forget it, his doctor said: You’re on it for life.
McAdam refused to accept that. Life with a brain befogged by drugs wasn’t worth living, he says. “I didn’t want to feel that like for the rest of my life.”
Fellow whistleblower Dr. Nancy Olivieri put him in touch with a Toronto psychiatrist who helped wean him off the drugs over a 2 1/2-year period. It wasn’t easy. “I had some really bad moments,” McAdam says. “I’d have one or two weeks out of every month when I’d feel really horrible.”
He took his final anti-depressant last Feb. 17, his birthday. Since then, the change in him has been striking, Marie says. “He’s having a normal life. I can’t believe it.”
“I’m doing super well,” McAdam says. “I feel very strong, I feel very invigorated, and that’s a wonderful feeling. I wake up in the morning to see the beautiful sunshine.”
McAdam has been an amateur magician since he was a teenager, but for most of his illness he was unable to perform his mentalist tricks. Now, he can participate again in monthly meetings of his magic club, he says, “because my brain’s able to work again.”
Things aren’t perfect. He has major memory problems, and has trouble focusing or writing clearly. “I could never work again,” he says. “I would just get so stressed out.”
Was it worth it? Would he do it again?
“Unfortunately, I probably would,” he says. But he’d be much smarter. “I was too free in giving people information about what I was doing. You have to do this in secret – find a third party to pass on the information somehow.
“I was writing what I found out, believing that police forces and intelligence agencies would react accordingly and do their jobs. That was the big mistake I made.”
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