Between 1965-1973 an estimated 100,000 draft-age Americans moved quietly across the border into Canada. More than 14,000 of these moved into and through southern British Columbia.
For many of these folks the pain and sorrow of leaving their homeland was eased by the friendly welcome they received from local Canadians.
These war resisters could not in good conscience support a war that had no clear objective, no real enemy and no end in sight.
While I was one of those who strongly objected to this war — any war for that matter — I was not forced out of the country because of the draft.
In the fall of 1970, I became one of the lucky ones. I received a fellowship to attend Dalhousie University in Halifax. Academics were granted a reprieve from the horrors of war.
Many of my friends were not so lucky.
Several felt they had no alternative but to serve in the military. Some of them never returned from the violent and sweltering jungle of Vietnam.
Others managed to live through the experience one way or the other. Many of those who did are still horrified about what they were asked to do to prove their patriotism.
From the comfort of my apartment in Halifax I recall listening to one of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s fireside chats. His casual soft-hearted flair on the world situation captured my imagination and was a welcome relief from the callousness of Richard Nixon.
Trudeau spoke honestly about his feelings on war and peace.
He hit hard on the senselessness of the Vietnam War. In fact he urged Canadians to open their hearts and minds to those US citizens who opposed war.
Trudeau didn’t mince words:
“Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war … have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism.”
This all seems so long ago now. But the oppression on the part of the US government against its citizens of conscience and the extraordinary kindness of Canadians during that time is not easily forgotten.
A celebration from July 4 to 8 in Castlegar, BC, will again reunite those who fled the US with those who assisted them here in Canada.
The second-annual Our Way Home Peace Event and Reunion is a celebration of real importance.
I encourage Yukoners who support efforts to resist war to travel to this event.
In addition to music and lively conversation the event this year will host:
Daniel Ellsberg, the former American military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation who precipitated a national uproar in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers.
Leonard Weinglass, an outstanding and courageous human rights attorney and legal counsel for the Pentagon Papers trial.
Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and co-founder and president of the M.K. Gandhi Institute.
And Peggy Mason, a diplomatic specialist with expertise in the field of international peace and security.
Mason served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament from 1989 through 1994. She has headed the Canadian delegation to numerous diplomatic conferences including the 1990 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the 1991 Biological and Toxic Weapons Review Conference.
In 1994-1995 she chaired a UN expert study that examined the work of the UN Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency in relation to disarmament in Iraq and she served on the UN Secretary-General’s disarmament advisory board from 1993 to 1997.
Also on hand will be Tom Hayden, once a leader of Students for a Democratic Society. A former California senator, Hayden has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and an advocate for social change.
Recently Hayden has spearheaded a series of meetings calling on Canadians to send a letter directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging him to allow US soldiers to enter Canada if they request permission to do so during the US war in Iraq.
And there are several more luminaries scheduled to appear.
John Hagen is Professor Emeritus, Sociology department, University of Toronto and John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University.
Hagen’s most recent book is Northwest Passage: American Vietnam Era War Resisters in Canada.
Bill Blaikie was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979 as a New Democrat and has been re-elected eight times, most recently on January 23, 2006.
Blaikie’s interest in issues pertaining to the Vietnam War has its origins in “the way the anti-Vietnam War movement helped him and other young people of that era to discover the prophetic tradition within the larger biblical tradition that calls on citizens to challenge the self-righteous assumptions and hidden corporate interests of their own ‘side’ in conflicts like the Vietnam War.”
Holly Near is a unique combination of entertainer, teacher and activist. She was a major figure speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam War.
“Near’s career as a singer has been profoundly defined by an unwillingness to separate her passion for music from her passion for human dignity.”
As Canada gets further embroiled in Afghanistan, I think it behooves citizens to revisit the history of Canada’s opposition to the Vietnam War.
There was a time under Trudeau’s leadership when Canada saw itself as a refuge from militarism.
I believe it is time to put the pressure on the Harper government to reinstate the pride and honour of pacifism.
Our Way Home Peace Event and Reunion is as good a point of beginning as any.