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Refuge from or Safe Haven for Militarism? U.S. War Resisters’ Diverging Experiences of Building New Lives in Canada

Refuge contre le militarisme, ou sanctuaire du militarisme ? Les expériences contradictoires des réfractaires militaires américains qui construisent une nouvelle vie au Canada
Sarah J. Grünendahl
p. 97-119

Résumés

L’exode des draft dodgers opposés à la guerre du Vietnam vers le Canada a contribué au mythe du Canada comme un « refuge contre le militarisme ». Cependant, cette promesse inhérente n’a pas été tenue pour ceux qui refusaient de participer aux guerres d’Afghanistan et d’Irak et ont fait un choix similaire au début des années 2000. Fondé sur des entrevues qualitatives, cet article analyse les répercussions de ce changement sur la perception du Canada et sur le sentiment d’appartenance des répondant.e.s à la société canadienne. Il montera que l’existence liminale des résistant.e.s contemporain.e.s a incité les draft dodgers de la guerre du Vietnam à revigorer le récit du Canada comme refuge.

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1In the context of Vietnam War resisters’ exodus to Canada, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is often credited with the statement that Canada should be a “refuge from militarism”. Though meanwhile debunked as a misquotation (Jones 2008), this legacy was once again invoked from the early 2000s on, as U.S. war resisters from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars mimicked the earlier war resister generation’s migration to Canada. Contrary to the Vietnam cohort, however, contemporary war resisters were not offered anything comparable to landed immigrant status. Likewise, refugee claims, which appeared the most feasible option given time constraints, failed to secure residency for Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, ultimately leaving them in a state of legal limbo. What can be deducted from the precarious situation of the latter group is that presently the narrative of Canada as a refuge from militarism does not prevail, if it ever had any merit at all. The nonacceptance of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, in this vein, serves as lens through which to analyze changes in the political landscape of Canada over the course of approximately four decades.

2The paper takes its departure from qualitative interviews with members of both war resister generations. It sheds light on their respective motivations for their flight as well as their diverging experiences of living in Canada. Furthermore, it explores how the deviation from Vietnam War resisters’ comparatively smooth migration experience has affected respondents’ perceptions of their adopted country, Canada, as well as their sense of belonging in Canadian society. Drawing on findings from the empirical study, the paper claims that not only the more recently-arrived Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters have had to make a cultural adjustment, but also Vietnam War resisters have had to renegotiate their positions and identities vis-à-vis Canadian society.

3The structure of the paper at hand is the following: first, there is a brief overview of the circumstances in which war resisters from the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, respectively, migrated to Canada. The subsequent section is concerned with the empirical study, e.g. as regards sampling and interview analysis. It is followed by two analytical sections, the first of which presents key findings from the interviews with Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters; the one after puts forward the results from the analysis of the interviews with Vietnam War resisters. Both of these last two sections draw on interview excerpts to illustrate the findings.

U.S. War Resisters’ Migration to Canada: Vietnam – Afghanistan – Iraq

4The 1960s in the United States saw struggles and upheaval of various sorts, from the Civil Rights to the Women’s Movements. Not least, the decade, as well as the one after, were marked by the Vietnam War and controversy around such questions as the pretext and legality of said war or the means with which it was fought (HALL 2012). Contemporary youth in particular had reason to object to the war as the male share of them ran the risk of direct involvement in combat. At the time, conscription was in place in the United States; thereby men had to register with their community’s draft board at age 18 and were then subject to induction and military service, most notably in the Vietnam War (RABIN 1970, 1006). University campuses across the country were hotbeds, though not the only sites, of protest (BAILEY 2009, 16–17; SMALL 2002, 15). And resistance to the draft came in various shapes, from non-violent measures such as simply returning a draft card to the Selective Service to violently burning down draft board offices or sabotaging the war effort itself while deployed (FOLEY 2003; HAGAN 2001).

  • 1 Accounts of how many people immigrated into Canada in response to the draft and the Vietnam War spe (...)

5An estimated 50,000 draft-eligible men decided to vote with their feet and, instead of seeking to change the system from within or, much less, complying with their induction orders, fled to Canada1, a country similar in culture and language, the geographic proximity of which made it a convenient destination. What further made it a prime location was the fact that Canada – in keeping with its self-assumed role as a middle-power – had chosen to stay out of the conflict, at least in a combative capacity (HILLMER and GRANATSTEIN 2008, 237–39). Covertly, however, the country did in fact provide weapons so as to support the U.S. engagement in Vietnam (O’KEEFE 2013, 418). In any case, in the long run Canada took no issue with U.S. male youth’s potentially unresolved military status (SQUIRES 2013, 3). At the time of Vietnam War resisters’ exodus, Canada granted newcomers landed immigrant status. Provided an individual accumulated sufficient points for a given combination of educational attainment, language and occupational skills, among other things, immigrants were eligible for residency, generally right at the border as they set foot into Canada (GREEN and GREEN 1999, 432). Initially favoring pre-induction draft dodgers (CHURCHILL 2004), landed immigrant status allowed individuals to eventually apply for Canadian citizenship.

6It is against this background that the myth of Canada as a “refuge from militarism” was forged. Sources such as KASINSKY (1976, 83) and HAGAN (2001, epigraph) attribute the turn of phrase to then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who supposedly invited Vietnam War resisters to come to Canada, marking them “people of conscience”. His alleged statement that Canada should be a “refuge from militarism”, though meanwhile debunked (JONES 2008), played on the perception of Canada as a “peaceable kingdom” (FRYE 1996, 371), i.e., a country that strives to achieve a serene and consensual coexistence with its neighbours by negotiation and mutual solutions rather than force (SAUL 2008, 54–55).

  • 2 Canada’s active role in peacekeeping was not an end in itself or altogether altruistic, however. Fo (...)

7Though Canadian history is replete with counterexamples – among other things, Canada has been party to bellicose conflicts as small as skirmishes to uphold territorial integrity and as large-scale as the War of 1812 and World Wars I and II – throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the country in fact achieved renown for its deliberate role as a middle-power, facilitating amiable negotiations (HILLMER and GRANATSTEIN 2008, 161; PALMER 2009, 51). For instance, said approach earned then-Prime Minister Lester Pearson the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis in 1957 (MORTON 2007, 242); also, Canada was pivotal in a considerable number of peacekeeping missions2, including in Congo or Cyprus (DORN 2005), which solidified the country’s image as a “neutral arbiter in world affairs” (O’KEEFE 2013, 417) and “peacekeeping leader” (MCKAY and SWIFT 2012, 175); finally, in 1986, Canada was the first country to earn the Nansen medal for its resettlement of refugees (FLERAS 2015, 158).

8Such was the spirit that informed Vietnam War resisters’ socialization in Canada. Though over time, what with amnesties implemented under Presidents Ford and Carter in 1974 and 1977, respectively, a share of all draft dodgers and deserters who had migrated to Canada likely returned to the United States, an even greater number remained in Canada and has largely been able to build successful lives (HAGAN 2001, chapters 5 and 6). Not seldomly, they have become Canadian citizens and, in any case, have contributed to their settlement country’s society in a variety of capacities.

9In comparison, U.S. war resisters from contemporary wars, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq specifically, do not fare so well, given that the situation has meanwhile changed on both sides of the 49th parallel. In the United States, the aftermath of the Vietnam War saw a discontinuation of the draft as of 1973; instead, the United States Armed Forces turned into a volunteer army (BAILEY 2009; ROSTKER 2006). Ever since, U.S. Americans sign up for military service on their own volition. In this regard, the later generation, composed of soldiers, differs from the Vietnam era cohort of war resisters, who were predominantly civilians. And yet, enlistees in this day and age may just as much come to the conclusion that soldiering is not, or no longer, compatible with their beliefs after all; in other words, they may develop a conscientious objection (CO) to any or all wars over time. While the Military Selective Service Act makes provisions for CO status (UNITED STATES CONGRESS n.d.), a relief of combat duty may not be easily obtained by those who make such a claim, not to mention that the adjudication process may take a considerable amount of time in which individuals likely become due to deploy to a given theatre of war.

  • 3 The number is in keeping with a statement NDP member Libby Davies made in a House of Commons debate (...)
  • 4 The allegedly first case of a War on Terrorism resister to come to Canada is that of Jeremy Hinzman (...)
  • 5 In July 2015, during his election campaign for prime minister, Justin Trudeau stated the situation (...)

10Canada, conversely, is no longer an easy way out. Rather than crossing the border into Canada and immediately applying for landed immigrant status, immigration, as per section 11(1) of the Immigration and Refuge Protection Act, nowadays generally requires an application from out of country (GOVERNMENT OF CANADA 2001). As a result, it may take as long as two years to have the request processed (STEWART 2015, 191). Thus, while the contemporary generation of resisters to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars – a group of approximately 300 persons3 – shares the earlier group’s motivation, i.e., the refusal to be complicit in a war effort, their migration trajectory differs starkly. Due to both the lack of landed immigrant status and time constraints, Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters instead filed for refugee status in Canada. By and large, Canadian legal authorities proved reluctant to decide these refugee claims ultimately in Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ favour. The decade or so since the allegedly first arrival of an Afghanistan and Iraq War resister in 20044 has seen the issuance of deportation orders or, at best, stays of removal, but permanent residency (the contemporary equivalent of landed immigrant status) has largely remained a pipe dream for Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters5. Accordingly, this group bides their time exhausting any and all legal avenues, constantly expecting to receive a deportation order that will end their sojourn in Canada and, if returned to the United States, likely subject them to court-martial, military prison and/or, in light of a criminal conviction, a cumbersome future.

11Operational Bulletin 202, a directive dating back to July 2010, has contributed to the sense of “permanent temporariness” (BAILEY et AL. 2002, 139) and “liminal legality” (MENJÍVAR 2006, 1008) felt by the contemporary resister. It stipulates that failure to fulfil a contract with the military marks U.S. American war resisters as potentially criminally inadmissible to Canada (CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION CANADA 2010). This also makes the contemporary cohort of war resisters susceptible to deportation.

12The case of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, more precisely their nonacceptance into Canada, raises the question as to whether the perception of Canada as a refuge from militarism, if ever it had merit at all, still holds. Empirical evidence goes far in increasing the understanding of the current state of Canada in regard to this matter. Interviews will hence shed light on the vantage points of Vietnam War resisters, who have lived through both instances of migration from the United States to Canada, and those of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters.

13Before we turn to the personal accounts of the respondents in this study, however, it is necessary to briefly consider a few additional factors besides legal status which may also have reflected on both sample groups’ integration experiences. First, respondents differed in their socio-economic backgrounds. As a rule of thumb, Vietnam era draft dodgers came from middle-class families and thus had better access to a college education (MURPHY 2010, 68; ROTH 2008, 46; KUSCH 2001, 3; BASKIR and LAWRENCE 1978, 181). Their greater cultural capital likely qualified them not only for a wider range, but also for better-paying jobs as they began to build their lives in Canada. Conversely, deserters in either war resister generation not seldomly stemmed from underprivileged families. Otherwise not so well-equipped for the job market, military service therefore held at times the misleading promise of better educational attainment, increasing employability and upward social mobility (LAZARE 2011; MURPHY 2010, 68; BASKIR and LAWRENCE 1978, 181). HARDING and KERSHNER (2011, 90), among others, hence speak of a “poverty draft”.

14Secondly, depending on the time of their arrival in Canada, war resisters had vastly different opportunities. Those who arrived in the earlier stages of the Vietnam War stood a better chance at economic integration into Canada, specifically if they had desired skills – Canada’s booming economy held many job openings for them (MILLIGAN 2014, 28). The late 1960s and 1970s, on the other hand, were marked by a faltering economy (MILLIGAN 2014, 15). What is more, Canada has long since played to the advantage of highly-skilled professionals (FERRER, PICOT and RIDDELL 2014). As a result, war resisters with less educational attainment, who immigrated from the 1970s onward, may have found it harder to secure their livelihoods.

15Finally, the perception of war resisters may to some extent also have been informed by the circumstances under which they eluded military service. Draft dodgers, as individuals who had defied their induction, were more likely to pass as resisters who had made a conscientious decision; deserters, on the other hand, brought to mind allegations of “disloyalty and rebellion” as well as “cowardice” (WEEDON 2014, 440). Possibly in this vein, it was not until 1969 that Canadian authorities extended an equal welcome to deserters as they did to draft dodgers (SQUIRES 2015, 156; CHURCHILL 2004, 2). As enlistees, contemporary war resisters have likewise drawn criticism for dereliction of duty (STEWART 2015, 186). In addition, they have faced allegations of being “bogus refugees”, if mainly on the part of politicians, who for their unlikeness with Vietnam era war resisters ought to be denied entry into Canada (STEWART 2015, 191).

16While these factors – socio-economic status, availability of adequate jobs and compulsion to military service – may have shaped respondents’ individual experiences of living in Canada, they did not reflect as much on their accounts as did legal status and the overall social climate. The following sections will now turn to the empirical side of Vietnam as well as Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ northbound migration.

Methodology of the Empirical Study

17Members of the Vietnam War resister generation who fled to Canada often go by the term draft dodger, which implies shirking a duty and, in the extreme, withdrawal from society. Yet what sparked the research project at hand was that Vietnam War resisters had in fact been lobbying on Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ behalf, so as to secure residency for their successors. The initial questions in this study were (1) what motivated the earlier cohort’s political activism: a general antiwar mindset, the wish to help their ‘fellow Americans’ or an affirmation of their very own migration decision; (2) what was Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ experience of moving to Canada; to what extent were they at all able to partake in Canadian society; and (3) in which ways have coerced flight and reception in the settlement country affected war resisters’ understanding of both Canada and the United States.

18The above research questions suggested an empirical study. Accordingly, the author of this paper conducted a series of problem-centred interviews among Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters as well as spouses of war resisters living in Canada. The interviews sought to explore war resisters’ respective migration trajectories and their experiences of living in Canada. Further, the study delved into any instances of each respondent’s current and past civic engagement.

  • 6 The potential sample for the study at hand is small, given that only a fraction of the Canadian gen (...)
  • 7 Anonymization is paramount for respondents in the Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ sample as the (...)

19All interviews took place during Stephan Harper’s last premiership (2011-2015). Recruitment of respondents occurred in a snowball fashion. First points of contact were local groups of activists lobbying on Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ behalf; these individuals then referred the author to further potential interviewees6. In total, the study includes twenty-six interviews with war resisters from the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, respectively, as well as with Canadian activists equally involved in this matter. On average, the interviews lasted one hour and forty-five minutes each. All interviews were transcribed and, so as to conceal the true identities of the respondents, anonymized in the process7.

  • 8 For the sake of readability, interview quotes have been redacted to fit common punctuation patterns (...)

20Grounded Theory provides the methodological framework for the study. In keeping with its tenets, the author coded the interviews and clustered codes that spoke to a similar topic at sample group level; finally, she identified a core category for each war resister generation (CORBIN and STRAUSS 2008, 104), which however is beyond the scope of this paper. Drawing on interview excerpts8, the subsequent analytical sections will deal with the two generations of war resisters in reverse chronological order, as it is but the contemporary resisters’ liminal status that throws the former individuals’ unhampered migration into relief.

In Search of a Myth: Afghanistan and Iraq War Resisters’ Attempts to Find Refuge in Canada

21The situation in which Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters in this sample decided they needed to part ways with the United States Armed Forces generally entailed an impending deployment to a theatre of war; some had seen combat before; for some it would have been their first tour of duty. In any case, inasmuch as they had grown skeptical of the means and ends of the war efforts or learned about atrocities, they gradually came to refuse complicity in the War on Terrorism. As they weighed their options as to how not to be involved, they eventually thought of Canada. In some cases, it was by word of mouth. One respondent’s confidant suggested, for instance, “maybe you should to go to Canada”, an option the person initially treated as merely “kind of like an idea”, but which then began to grow. In other cases, moving up north was the result of searching the internet for options that were available for potential deserters. Sparked by a friend’s “off-color remark”, another interviewee “went to Google and just like started looking at information and stuff like that and […] came across [a group of lobbyists]”, thinking “it can’t hurt to call somebody and talk to them.” Yet another war resister had a similar conversation with Canadian activists and thereupon came to the conclusion that fleeing to Canada “was what I wanted to do. Like staying where I was wasn’t gonna help me and wasn’t gonna help anybody else.

22The accounts which make up the sample suggest that respondents in the group of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters were not necessarily aware of the exodus of Vietnam War resisters some decades earlier as they began the soul-searching or sometimes even after they had themselves taken refuge in Canada. However, as regards the deliberation process and migration decision, they share the same motivation as the earlier cohort. To them as to their predecessors, Canada was a place where, no longer within the United States Armed Forces’ purview, they would not have to comply with a deployment order. Along with their spouses and families, they would be safe, at least for the time being. In the words of one respondent “Canada meant faith. It meant that we’re OK here!” And yet, from their research or otherwise, war resisters considering flight to Canada were to some extent aware that they would have to walk a tight-rope in their country of destination. The statement of one interviewee sheds light on both the humble expectations and the reason Canada still seemed more appealing:

The understanding [...] was basically that [...] it wasn’t quite so simple anymore? It wasn’t so black and white as it was back then [during the Vietnam War]. You know, the process of obtaining refugee status was very difficult. And that the resisters that had already come here, you know, were living in very uncertain terms – not, you know, having been denied refugee status already. But you take a chance, right? It’s better to have a maybe than just, you know, a flat outright, you know, no chance like we would have had in the States.

23The above quote alludes to the precarious situation of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters in Canada. Economically, war resisters in this sample were generally struggling with the integration into the job market, be it for a lack of a work permit (“You can’t get a job immediately. They like don’t give you a work permit for like seems like almost a year that it takes to get a freaking work permit once you get here.”), skills that were hardly in demand in a civilian job market (“My resume would have like dealt with radios, [military branch-specific task] […] things to that nature that just were […] that were terribly unpractical for a civilian life.”) or health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which limit or preclude interactions with the social environment (“[My spouse] may be able to get a job somewhere, but probably not a job that could support everyone.”), among other things. Accordingly, funds on which to live tended to be scarce. As one respondent described it,

It isn’t like we’re on vacation or something. Like this is paradise here in Canada. Like we live on social assistance. We have — There’s lots of times that half the month we don’t have any money [author: /Mmh/] and just hope to make it or have like three dollars to our name or something, have to go into piggy banks, things like that. It isn’t like we’re living it up in Canada partying.

24Another consequential factor that accounts for Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ precariousness is their pending refugee claims and hence unresolved legal status in Canada. Said uncertainty not only proves an impediment to their economic integration, but also to their emotional well-being overall. One respondent narrated the adverse effects of “liminal legality” (MENJÍVAR 2006, 1008) thus: “It wears on you after a while, you know the fact that you’re technically in a sort of legal limbo in Canada.” In the day-to-day, this means that Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters have often adopted a very ad hoc lifestyle, as this interviewee’s statement indicates:

I don’t really see the point in doing a whole lot of planning in advance because I mean tomorrow I could get that little brown envelope in the mail that says like *mock yell* you have to leave the country. And so then like I need to like basically just drop whatever the fuck I’m doing.

25In reference to policies such as Operational Bulletin 202, one individual aptly summarized the overall impression of respondents from this generation of war resisters with the statement:

The government doesn’t want you here [author: /Mmh/] And because of this you can’t think of the future. You can’t — you can’t really grow your life here because you don’t know what’s gonna happen.

26One of the implications for Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ integration into Canada was hence also that, on account of their precarious situation, they were rather reluctant to participate in society, e.g. in the shape of civic engagement. Consider this respondent’s statement, for instance:

You never know who’s looking and how that would affect your own situation, you know. Or if, you know, if there is a protest going on and something happened, and it turned bad? And there were arrests made? That could ruin our chances of being able to stay here!

27If not aware at the outset of their migration to Canada, respondents in the Afghanistan and Iraq War sample learned of Vietnam War resisters’ comparatively easy transition over the course of their sojourn. This spurred the realization, here on the part of a couple, that this time around “[resister:] It’s very different than, you know, Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s [spouse:] saying that, you know, Canada should be a refuge from militarism.” Another respondent used words to a similar effect, saying “Canada has always been in the past, you know, safe harbour for those seeking refuge.”

28These statements show that the narrative of Canada as a refuge, including for war resisters from Canada’s neighbour to the South, remains salient. As the account of another respondent indicates, however, such references are not merely an invocation of the past, they rather serve to stake a contemporary claim. Having previously mentioned the Loyalists and the Underground Railroad as fortunate instances of coerced flight from the United States to Canada, said individual went on to say that during

Vietnam it happened again. And we’re hoping that the situation with the Iraq War will turn out the same way. You know, the history is there, you know. So obviously we’re hoping for history to repeat itself.

29While the Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters in the sample pinned their hopes on eventually obtaining permanent status and building new lives in Canada, their skepticism of the Harper government’s tenure in office was equally pervasive, both as regards the repercussions on their very own refugee cases as well as on the overall character of Canadian society. The last quote from an interview hints at why anyone in the samples would be likely to take issue with the given situation. Says one respondent: “I don’t like what I’m seeing happen with the Conservative government in Canada. Is like they’re trying to create a mini United States.” If that were the case, Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ flight north would have been in vain, as would have been that of Vietnam War resisters. In other words, Canada would not live up to the promise of being a refuge from the United States after all. The following chapter will shed light on the state of Canada from the vantage point of the Vietnam War resister generation.

Commemorating the “Canada as Peaceable Kingdom” Myth: Vietnam War Resisters’ Disillusionment

30Vietnam War resisters share with their successors some decades later, i.e., Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, the motivation for their flight to Canada. In either case, respondents in this study were appalled by what they learned about the respective wars and, as a result, came to refuse complicity in them. Vietnam War resisters’ accounts specifically told of how they perceived the war in Southeast Asia as the antithesis of doing something meaningful. For one thing, it interfered with their life plans; for another, the ends and means appeared to them more than questionable. Said Vernon, for instance: “There was no way Vietnam could be classified as a just war. That it was anything but a just war and there was no justification for the United States’ involvement in it.” And, in the same vein, Vincent’s stance at the time had been:

This war is so outrageous, it’s so wrong that I have to make a stand! […] The only way to face the issue was to confront it head-on say this is wrong and I’m not gonna participate on grounds of conscience.

31Eventually, objection to the Vietnam War fed into a sense of alienation vis-à-vis the United States on the whole. As Vaughan expressed it, there was an urge to “figure out what else was basically wrong.”

32Canada, in turn, appealed to Vietnam War resisters as a destination due to the overt non-involvement in the conflict. The country’s role as intermediary as well as its lenient immigration policies explain why respondents in this sample, independently from one another, portrayed Canada as an anti-militaristic sanctuary. Informed by personal experience, Valentin, among others, remembered the political mood at the time thus: “Pierre Trudeau when I came up here was saying this should be a refuge from militarism.” Tainted as this memory may be, Canada at least seemed indifferent as to whether immigrants from the United States had met their draft obligations. In the words of Veronica, “the policy was you don’t ask questions about somebody’s military status.” Vernon’s statement illustrates that Vietnam War resisters derived a sense of security from Canada’s stance at the time: “The message in draft circles was that Canada was a safe place to go and that you wouldn’t be sent back.”

33It goes without saying that, in retrospect, memories of initial difficulties encountered upon arrival in Canada have likely faded. In any case, Vietnam War resisters interviewed for this study recalled their migration and adaptation to Canada as rather smooth. Vaughan’s impression was that he had been “welcomed with open arms”. What is more, respondents generally stressed how much they felt a fit with their new social environment. Alluding to Canada’s intermediary role, Vernon expressed it thus:

One of the things I appreciated most about Canada once I got here was the fact that it clearly understood itself to be a middle-power and had no aspirations to police the world and didn’t have any grandiose political ideas about how it needed to run the world.

34Virgil, in a similar vein, “found it a country that I felt much more in tune with and much more at home in”. His conclusion was “I’d been a Canadian, I just hadn’t lived here.”

35Apart from values or the overall political mood, Vietnam War resisters, like any other migrants, needed to integrate economically and socially, i.e., find jobs, build careers, make new friends, and so on. By and large, this period of transition does not figure in as fraught with obstacles in respondents’ accounts. Granted, some interviewees spoke about how they needed to ‘unlearn’ their longing. Vincent, for instance, at first paid regular visits to the border, looking across wistfully, but then came to the conclusion:

You have to accept that this is your new home and you have to make an emotional adjustment […] So I did everything I could to make sure this was my home, you know, make friends as best I could, get a job, stay at it. You know, just to be as happy in my life as I could be.

36Vaughan’s efforts to that end soon paid off: “Within no time at all I was living a perfectly lovely life up here.” Victor remembered his first employer as “sympathetic” of his situation as a draft dodger. He gave him the job and therefore Victor “was able to establish some income and start, you know, building a life.” Virgil equally encountered professional and social opportunities in Canada and hence concluded: Moving up north “let me contribute to my chosen society a lot more positively than I would have been able to had I gone on to prison” for non-compliance with the draft.

37The aforementioned interview quotes are indicative of the tenor of all Vietnam War resisters’ accounts, namely that they were very much at peace with their migration decision and lives in Canada. For one thing, they felt good about having acted on their conscience. Said Vincent: “I think I would have always been unhappy with myself for not having taken a stand against such an outrage as the war on Vietnam. So I’m glad that I did what I did.”

38For another, respondents expressed that they had successfully pursued their life plans. Victor stated: “I ended up making a life that I’m very comfortable with” and Vaughan declared “I’ve been perfectly happy with the way things have gone.” For Valentin as for the other respondents, their experience of migrating to Canada was, in essence, the following: “It was the right decision to make and I have no regrets at all.”

39Accounts in this study mostly suggest that the more the Vietnam War resisters in this sample put down roots in Canada, the more they turned their backs on the United States. In Vincent’s words, the rationale was the following: “Canadians welcomed me, and Americans were more than happy to send me to war! I thought well I’m home.” For Virgil, it seems it was equally easy to find closure on his departure from the United States. He stated: “I had left the U.S. It was history for me.”

40Both Vietnam War resisters’ motivation for their move and the fact that they found Canada a conducive environment explain why respondents gradually ceased to identify as U.S. Americans and instead adopted a Canadian identity. By way of example, here are two interview excerpts. The first is a statement by Valentin: “I’m not an American. I’m Canadian. That’s how I feel, and I really don’t want anything to do with the U.S.” The second quote is from Vaughan’s interview: “The U.S. and I decided to part ways. I became a Canadian citizen as soon as my five years residency were satisfied [...] I’ve never thought of myself as a U.S. citizen since then.” In the same vein as the latter account, Vincent narrated: “I eventually became a citizen, as soon as I could actually.” Succinctly put, the identity transformation culminated in naturalization and thereby pledging allegiance to Canada.

41The above experiences of Vietnam War resisters nourish the myth of Canada as a refuge, not least from the United States. Relatively speaking, members of this group easily transitioned into new lives and followed through with projects they felt they could not have brought to fruition in the United States. However, the interviews, conducted during Harper’s last premiership, also tell another story of Canada, as far as the more recent past is concerned.

42Concretely, respondents had to some degree lost their peace of mind due to Canada’s nonacceptance of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters. They appeared somewhat rattled by a mismatch between expectations and experience. In their opinion, Canada presently failed to live up to the image as a refuge. With an eye to deportation orders that members of the Afghanistan and Iraq War cohort had been issued, Valentin commented:

To me that’s very much against Canada because it’s — I don’t know, it’s due for Pierre Trudeau, who used to be our Prime Minister, talked about Canada should be a refuge from militarism.

43Victor’s account of the situation struck a similar chord:

It’s totally impossible it seems for the current war resisters to be considered legitimate, which is really sad and unfortunate, and I mean it’s a complete change from, you know, the Trudeau years.

44Vincent’s statement sheds even more light on the perceived deviation from their own experience: “Trudeau stated outright explicitly Canada should be a haven from militarism. Under Stephen Harper and the Tories this country has become a haven for militarism.”

45The above quotes demonstrate that respondents considered the nonacceptance of the current generation of war resisters a symptom of a general militarization of Canadian society. This becomes apparent also in Valentin’s statement:

This government seems to be bent on pushing the military a lot more. […] And I guess that Pierre Trudeau, when I came up here, was saying this should be a refuge from militarism and it certainly isn’t a refuge now, because it’s becoming militaristic.

46Vincent questioned the course of Canada thus:

If they’re hard times why are they spending money on war? And making war? And getting ready for more war? That’s the difference between the Canada that we have today and the Canada that was a refuge from militarism that I came to in [19xx].

  • 9 The disapproval of Canada’s role in the Afghanistan War, however, does not hold for Canadian societ (...)

47Accordingly, on the whole, respondents were also very critical of Canada’s recent involvement in the Afghanistan War9. Vernon’s opinion was the following:

I am sorry that he [Harper] has not continued the Canadian tradition of being peacekeepers that function largely within the United Nations system of providing peacekeepers in troubled areas, and that Harper has, and the Liberals before Harper, chose to become engaged in Afghanistan in the way that they did.

48And Valentin observed: “Canada seemed to be a more peace-loving country before, but I don’t think it is that way now and — being involved in Afghanistan and stuff like that.”

49What Vietnam War resisters interviewed for this study bemoaned then was, in summary, the perceived demise of Canada as both a “refuge from militarism” and a “peaceable kingdom”. The range of emotions in response to these changes, as evidenced by the accounts, included sadness, anger as well as a sense of betrayal. Possibly owing to the time of interview, as per the conversations, respondents primarily deemed the Harper government responsible for this development. In so doing, they disregarded that the character of peace-related missions, and hence the Canadian Forces’ role in them, had been changing for several decades (MCKAY and SWIFT 2012, chapter 6). What is more, almost invariably, interviewees failed to acknowledge that prior Liberal governments, not least the one led by Jean Chrétien, had backed the deployment of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan (SKINNER 2013, 112) or, for that matter, had done little in the way of granting Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters permanent status.

50What was remarkable, in any case, was the degree to which interviewees personalized this perceived shift in policy. Although by no means at risk to be deported or, for that matter, deployed, they talked about Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ liminal status and Canada’s political state as if they were affected themselves. The statements of two respondents illustrate the adoption of the current war resisters’ perspective. Vernon said: “I do understand that if I had come as a Vietnam War resister under today’s rules, I would never have gotten into Canada under the Harper government.” Vaughan put it more drastically. With regard to then-Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenny, he said “He’d deport me if he could! And I’ve been a citizen since [19xx]!”

51In an effort to restore or maintain biographical coherence as well as to ease their feeling of estrangement from Canada, some respondents in this study had become vocal advocates, if not activists, on behalf of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ right to remain in Canada. To name but a few of their activities, they participated in local outreach projects, joined demonstrations, lobbied among members of parliament, picketed and collected signatures, helped raise funds or contributed financially themselves. Valentin gave the following reason for his activism: “This is a tangible way of helping a new generation of war resisters, you know, to be here in Canada.” For Vincent, in turn, his motivation ran deeper. His objective was also to preserve what he understood as the general character of Canada. He explained:

I’m doing this primarily for this generation of war resisters, but I’m also doing it for my adopted country Canada, because it’s becoming an echo of the United States and not an independent voice in North America.

52In closing, the due observation is hence that Vietnam War resisters’ concern with regard to the political state of Canada originates in the wish to set both themselves and their settlement country apart from the United States. LIPSET (1991, xv) once observed that Canadian intellectuals tend to define the country’s character predominantly by its unlikeness with the United States. If this statement has any merit, Vietnam War resisters can rightly claim to have become Canadians.

Conclusion

53Regular exchanges and mobility across the Canada-United States border are everyday affairs, facilitated, not least, by the common English language and similar culture. At the same time, Canada has time and again also served as a refuge for disaffected U.S. Americans eager to relocate permanently. This applies, amongst others, to (potential) members of the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, respectively. The paper at hand shed light on how members of either of these aforementioned war resister generations experienced this move to Canada; drawing on empirical data, it traced to what extent respondents felt they were in fact now living the kind of life they had sought in vain in their country of birth.

  • 10 The anthology Empire’s Ally. Canada and the War in Afghanistan (KLASSEN and ALBO 2013) features a s (...)

54The above excerpts from interviews with Vietnam War resisters showed that the individuals in this sample still strongly believe in the narrative of Canada as a “refuge from militarism”, however mythical it may be. However, in recent decades, they observed that their country of settlement has been changing in ways that seem at odds with this narrative. In other words, interviewees’ accounts told of a mismatch between their expectations, informed by their very own successful migration history, and their experience of the current situation. From their vantage point, Canada has succumbed to militarization. Rather than being a “refuge from militarism”, it is now, in several respondents’ words, a “safe haven for militarism”, evidence of which Vietnam War resisters saw in Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan War10. Likewise, respondents viewed the contemporary nonacceptance of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, with whom they happen to share the motivation to migrate to Canada, as symptomatic of the aforementioned trend.

55What made them particularly uneasy was the following: while Vietnam War resisters almost immediately went on with their lives and successfully built new existences, or so they claimed in retrospect, Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters largely remained on the sidelines of Canadian society at the time of the interviews, even after several years. As a result, Vietnam War resisters’ bond to Canada has become somewhat strained, i.e., due to the cognitive dissonance there is a certain estrangement on the respondents’ part. Consequently, they have had to renegotiate their position vis-à-vis Canadian society, e.g. figure out how to maintain their sense of belonging under the given circumstances.

56One way in which some the Vietnam War respondents went about this was through political activism. As the interviews demonstrate, by lobbying on behalf of Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters (and potentially securing the latter groups’ residency), they sought both to affirm the correctness of their own migration decisions and to reinvigorate the narratives of Canada as a refuge from militarism and peaceable kingdom. For Vietnam War resisters specifically, and to some extent also for Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters, said approach of maintaining a more mediating and peace-oriented role for Canada appeared crucial. Excerpts from the interviews went to show respondents’ urge to set their settlement country and chosen society apart from their country of birth. In closing it can hence be concluded that Canada does indeed serve as a refuge from the United States, albeit to varying degrees for the samples in this study.

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Notes

1 Accounts of how many people immigrated into Canada in response to the draft and the Vietnam War specifically vary, e.g. owing to the fact that those who came were by no means a homogenous group. A median of 50,000 is in keeping with the range on which scholars agree (SQUIRES 2013; JONES 2005; HAGAN 2001).

2 Canada’s active role in peacekeeping was not an end in itself or altogether altruistic, however. For one, spearheading such operations was instrumental in setting the newly-independent country apart from the former British hegemon (NEIBERG 2012, 10–11); for another, inasmuch as the engagement contributed to a Pax Americana, it was a means to strengthen the ties to the United States as the new global superpower (ALBO 2013, 242; MCKAY and SWIFT 2012, 114; COOMBS and GOETTE 2006, 287–288). Ironically, peacekeeping is often also simultaneously understood as a token of Canada’s moral superiority vis-à-vis the United States (MCKAY and SWIFT 2012, 292; GRANATSTEIN 2011, 391).

3 The number is in keeping with a statement NDP member Libby Davies made in a House of Commons debate on September 27, 2010 (CANADA HOUSE OF COMMONS 2010); as with Vietnam War resisters, there are no definitive official records but only estimates.

4 The allegedly first case of a War on Terrorism resister to come to Canada is that of Jeremy Hinzman (WEEDON 2014, 442).

5 In July 2015, during his election campaign for prime minister, Justin Trudeau stated the situation of contemporary U.S. war resisters in Canada merited compassionate consideration (Warresisterscanada 2015). Yet, at the time of writing, there is no evidence of him acting on this commitment since taking office.

6 The potential sample for the study at hand is small, given that only a fraction of the Canadian general population is competent to share first-hand experience of the migration phenomenon in question. What is more, members of either war resister generation are largely invisible as respondents, be it for their geographical dispersal, successful integration or precarious legal status, for instance. It is customary for research that involves any such hidden or hard-to-reach populations to employ snowball sampling, albeit it may entail respondent-driven bias (HECKATHORN 2011; ABRAMS 2010). Inasmuch as local groups of activists served as a springboard for the fieldwork, the sample may be skewed in favour of individuals who were sympathetic of war resistance to begin with or even claimed a personal stake in the matter.

7 Anonymization is paramount for respondents in the Afghanistan and Iraq War resisters’ sample as they could be subject to deportation. Therefore, the author refrains from using names altogether. Vietnam War resisters have been randomly assigned alias names starting in V.

8 For the sake of readability, interview quotes have been redacted to fit common punctuation patterns. To convey the spirit of respondents’ remarks, italics highlight intonation. Supplemental information by the author as regards prosody is given in asterisks **. Further, additions by the author are given in square brackets [] while […] marks an ellipsis.

9 The disapproval of Canada’s role in the Afghanistan War, however, does not hold for Canadian society at large. In fact, this military intervention has a positive connotation inasmuch as, for one, Canadian Forces derived their mandate from United Nations Security Council resolution 1386 (BOUCHER and NOSSAL 2017, 18), and for another, the mission is interpreted as one of facilitating peace (HANIEH 2013, 74; MCKAY and SWIFT 2012, 293). As the decisive, and in the end successful, opposition to Canada’s participation in the related Iraq War illustrates, however, the Canadian public’s support of the War on Terrorism was by no means unanimous (STEWART 2015, 186; HANIEH 2013, 74).

10 The anthology Empire’s Ally. Canada and the War in Afghanistan (KLASSEN and ALBO 2013) features a series of essays critically concerned with the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism in the broader sense. Klassen (2013, 30), amongst others, attributes Canada’s recent military policy to imperial aspirations, if only as secondary to the United States.

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Référence papier

Sarah J. Grünendahl, « Refuge from or Safe Haven for Militarism? U.S. War Resisters’ Diverging Experiences of Building New Lives in Canada »Études canadiennes / Canadian Studies, 85 | 2018, 97-119.

Référence électronique

Sarah J. Grünendahl, « Refuge from or Safe Haven for Militarism? U.S. War Resisters’ Diverging Experiences of Building New Lives in Canada »Études canadiennes / Canadian Studies [En ligne], 85 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2019, consulté le 17 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/eccs/1501 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/eccs.1501

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Auteur

Sarah J. Grünendahl

Sarah J. Grünendahl is a North American Studies graduate of the University of Bonn (Germany); currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Siegen (Germany). Her dissertation is concerned with political activism around U.S. American war resisters’ flight to Canada. The study serves as a lens through which to analyze migrants’ adaptation to the destination country, patterns of societal participation as well as Canada-United States relations. In 2014/15 Sarah J. Grünendahl was a Joint Visiting Research Fellow with the Centre for Global Studies and the Borders in Globalization Project, both housed at the University of Victoria (Canada).

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