George Radwanski, a former high-profile journalist whose term as a defender of privacy rights ended in controversy, died of a heart attack on Thursday. He was 67.
An immigrant of Polish origin, he went up the corridors of power in Canada, but also was engulfed in a storm over his expenses as the federal privacy commissioner in 2003. While he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 2009, the episode tarnished the last decade of his life.
"When he was acquitted, he was optimistic that he would be able to re-engage in public life," said Mr. Radwanski's only son, Adam, who is a political columnist at The Globe and Mail. "It was a huge disappointment for him that after that, colleagues, friends, etc., didn't really welcome him back the way that he had hoped."
As a young reporter at The Gazette in 1969, Mr. Radwanski interviewed John Lennon at his bed-in in Montreal. After moving into political reporting, he wrote a best-selling biography of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1978 and won National Newspaper Awards for his editorials in 1980 and 1981, before becoming editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star.
He went on to head an inquiry into education in Ontario and worked as a speechwriter for Liberal leader and prime minister Jean Chrétien. In 2000, he was appointed as the federal watchdog for Canadians' privacy rights.
He was in a key position after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as Ottawa adopted anti-terrorism legislation that created new risks for the privacy rights of Canadians. Mr. Radwanski quickly warned that the legislation gave new powers to the government to create "Big Brother files on all Canadians." In particular, he pushed the government to drop a plan to make information about passenger flight patterns collected for airline security available to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency for income-tax investigations.
He resigned in mid-mandate in 2003 during a scandal over his expenses that began with an investigation by the Office of the Auditor-General into his hospitality and travel claims. The RCMP investigated and laid charges of fraud and breach of trust. He was found not guilty at a trial in 2009.
After his acquittal, Mr. Radwanski said he believed he was charged in retaliation for his public fight against RCMP plans to install surveillance cameras in Kelowna, B.C.
"There is no question I antagonized a lot of people by the way I went about my job, in terms of how aggressively I pursued the issues I was fighting for. I ticked a lot of people off, not the least the RCMP," he said at the time.
In his decision, Mr. Justice Paul Bélanger said Mr. Radwanski was "less than meticulous" in keeping track of administrative matters and "clearly negligent in accounting for his expenses." Still, the judge said he saw no evidence Mr. Radwanski ever attempted to hide any of the transactions.
Mr. Radwanski was active on Twitter until this month, commenting on political files such as the mayoral race in Toronto and the expense scandal involving Senator Mike Duffy.