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Canadamarker did not fight in the Vietnam War and diplomatically it was officially "non-belligerent". The country's troop deployments to Vietnam were limited to a small number of national forces in 1973 to help enforce the Paris Peace Accords. Nevertheless, the war had considerable effects on Canada, while Canada and Canadians affected the war, in return.


During the Cold War, Canada was firmly allied with the mainstream Western powers. For instance, Canada was a founding member of NATOmarker, and was instrumental in the forming of that military alliance against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Canada's foreign policy was also committed to multilateralism and the United Nations, perhaps most noticeably under Lester B. Pearson from 1963 to 1968. Canada thus found itself in a difficult position, caught between these two foreign policy objectives. Canadians were hesitant to adopt the Truman or Eisenhower Doctrines, which held that communism itself must be actively opposed through foreign intervention. Instead, Canada's policy was that illegal acts of international aggression must be opposed, as in the Korean War, during which Canada was among the many countries that sent troops to fight in support of South Koreamarker, under a United Nations resolution.

During the First Indochina War between Francemarker and the Indo-Chinese nationalist and communist parties, Canada remained militarily uninvolved but provided modest diplomatic and economic support to the French. Canada was, however, part of the International Control Committee (along with Poland and India) that oversaw the 1954 Geneva Agreements that divided Vietnam, provided for French withdrawal and would have instituted elections for reunification by 1956. Behind the scenes, Canadian diplomats tried to discourage both France and the United States from escalating the conflict in a part of the world Canadians had decided was not strategically vital.

Canada laid out six prerequisites to joining a war effort or Asian alliance like SEATO:
  1. It had to involve cultural and trade ties in addition to a military alliance.
  2. It had to demonstrably meet the will of the people in the countries involved.
  3. Other free Asian states had to support it directly or in principle.
  4. France had to refer the conflict to United Nations.
  5. Any multilateral action must conform to the UN charter.
  6. Any action had to be divorced from all elements of colonialism.

These criteria effectively guaranteed Canada would not participate in the Vietnam War.

Additionally, at the start of the Vietnam War, Canada was a member of the UN truce commissions overseeing the implementation of the Geneva Agreements, and thus was obliged to stay officially neutral. The Canadian negotiators were strongly on the side of the Americans, however. Some delegates even engaged in espionage on behalf of the Americans, with the approval of the Canadian government. Canada also sent foreign aid to South Vietnam, which, while humanitarian, was directed by the Americans.

Canada tried to mediate between the warring countries, aiming for a conclusion that could allow the U.S. to leave the conflict honourably, but also publicly (if mildly) criticised American war methods. Meanwhile, Canadian industry exported military supplies and raw materials useful in their manufacture, including ammunition, napalm and Agent Orange, to the United States, as trade between the two countries carried on unhindered by considerations of the purposes to which these exports were being put. Although these exports were sales by Canadian companies, not gifts from the Canadian government, they benefitted the American war effort, none the less.

As the war escalated, relations between Canada and the United States deteriorated. On April 2, 1965 Pearson gave a speech at Temple Universitymarker in the United Statesmarker which, in the context of firm support for U.S. policy, called for a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam. In a perhaps apocryphal story, when a furious President Lyndon B. Johnson met with Pearson the next day, he grabbed the much smaller Canadian by his lapels and talked angrily with him for an hour. After this incident, the two men somehow found ways to resolve their differences over the war—in fact, they both met together in Canada two times afterward.

American draft resisters and military deserters

American draft resisters and military deserters who sought refuge in Canada during the VietnamWar would ignite controversy among those seeking to immigrate to Canada, some of it provoked by the Canadian government’s initialrefusal to admit those who could not prove that they had been discharged from [American] military service.This changed in 1968. draft resisters were usually college-educated sons of the middle class whocould no longer defer induction into the Selective Service System. Deserters, on the other hand,were predominantly sons of the lower-income and working classes who had been inducted into thearmed services directly from high school or who had volunteered, hoping to obtain a skill andbroaden their limited horizons.

Starting in 1965, Canada became a choice haven for American draft resisters and deserters.Because they were not formally classified as refugees but were admitted as immigrants, there isno official estimate of how many draft resisters and deserters were admitted to Canada during theVietnam War. One informed estimate puts their number between 30,000 and 40,000. Whether ornot this estimate is accurate, the fact remains that immigration from the United States was high aslong as the war raged and that in 1971 and 1972 Canada received more immigrants from theUnited States than from any other country. Although some of these transplanted Americansreturned home after the Vietnam War, most of them put down roots in Canada, making up thelargest, best-educated group this country had ever received.

Draft resisters

Estimates vary greatly as to how many Americans settled in Canada for the specific reason of draft resisters or "evading conscription," as opposed to desertion, or other reasons. Canadian immigration statistics show that 20,000 to 30,000 draft-eligible American men came to Canada as immigrants during the Vietnam era. The BBC stated that "as many as 60,000 young American men dodged the draft." Estimates of the total number of American citizens who moved to Canada due to their opposition to the war range from 50,000 to 125,000 This exodus was "the largest politically motivated migration from the United States since the United Empire Loyalists moved north to oppose the American Revolution." Major communities of war resisters formed in Montreal, the Slocan Valley, British Columbiamarker, and on Baldwin Streetmarker in Torontomarker, Ontariomarker.

They were at first assisted by the Student Union for Peace Action, a campus-based Canadian anti-war group with connections to Students for a Democratic Society. This was led by campus chair Matthieu Charette in the United States. Canadian immigration policy at the time made it easy for immigrants from all countries to obtain legal status in Canada. By late 1967, draft resisters were being assisted primarily by several locally based anti-draft groups (over twenty of them), such as the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme. As a counselor for the Programme, Mark Satin wrote the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, in 1968. It sold over 100,000 copies in six editions.

The influx of these young men, who (as mentioned earlier) were often well educated and politically leftist, affected Canada's academic and cultural institutions, and Canadian society at large. These new arrivals tended to balance the "brain drain" that Canada had experienced. While some draft resisters returned to the United States after an amnesty was declared in 1977 during the administration of Jimmy Carter, roughly half of them stayed in Canada.

Prominent draft resisters who stayed in Canada permanently, or for a significant amount of time include the below. (For a separate, distinct list of noteworthy deserters, see next section.)


Distinct from draft resisters, there were also deserters of the American forces who also made their way to Canada. There was pressure from the United States and Canada to have them arrested, or at least stopped at the border.

The deserters have not been pardoned and may still face pro forma arrest, as the case of Allen Abney demonstrated in March 2006. Another similar case was that of Richard Allen Shields: He had deserted the U.S. Army in 1972 after serving a year in Vietnam. Twenty-eight years later, in 2000, when he traveled to the U.S. he was arrested and jailed in Washington State.

Other noteworthy deserters from that era include the following:
  • Andy Barrie- Host of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio's Metro Morning (He later received a General Discharge from the United States Army, became a Canadian citizen, and is free to travel to the U.S.)
  • Dick Cotterill
  • Michael Shaffer: "After six months in the Army, my application for CO status was denied and I was told that I would be going to Vietnam. I refused to draw my weapon and was ordered court-martialed. On Labour Day 1970 I was able to escape and cross into Canada.... During President Ford’s Clemency Program in 1975, I went to Fort Dix seeking the “Undesirable Discharge” offered to deserters who turned themselves in. The Army decided that I wasn’t eligible and court-martial proceedings were resumed. With help from the ACLU, I was released and two years later a Federal Court ordered the Army to discharge me Honourably as a Conscientious Objector....I remained in Vancouver"
  • Jack Todd - award-winning sports columnist for the Montreal Gazette

Related Controversy

In February 2009, "text on how both draft dodgers and resisters of the Vietnam War were ultimately allowed to stay in Canada suddenly vanished from the [ Government of Canada's] Citizenship and Immigration [web]site."

Originally, the Government of Canada website had contained the following statements:

..."Starting in 1965, Canada became a choice haven for American draft resisters and deserters, ...Although some of these transplanted Americans returned home after the Vietnam War, most of them put down roots in Canada, making up the largest, best-educated group this country had ever received."

The above statement (now gone from the website) was part of an extensive online chapter on draft resisters and deserters from the Vietnam war, which was found in the larger online document,"Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977" It was originally posted on the Government of Canada website in the year 2000, when the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Jean Chretien, was in power and responsible for the content of that website. But "in 2009, the Harper government [took] a much dimmer view of dozens of U.S. soldiers who've come north after refusing to serve in the invasion of Iraq, which was never sanctioned by the UN. Some had already been deported to face military jail terms ranging from about six to 15 months." (See Canada and Iraq War Resisters)

The removal from the Citizenship and Immigration website occurred in the same month that its multi-party counterpart, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was debating that issue: On Feb 12, 2009, that multi-party committee passed, for the second time, a non-binding motion reaffirming Parliament's earlier (June 2008) vote which recommended that the government let Iraq War resisters stay in Canada. A month and a half later, on March 30, 2009, the House of Commons again voted in a non-binding motion 129 to 125 in favour of the committee's recommendation.

Anti-war activism

Anti-War activities were nearly as widespread in Canada as they were in the United States, with demonstrations on most Canadian college and university campuses. In English Canada, the movement was fuelled by the draft dodgers. In Quebecmarker, the anti-war movement was also strong, and even violent: The FLQ, a militant Quebec-separatist group, was also stridently anti-American and against the war.

One of the most visible expressions of this was at Expo 67. President Johnson was visiting for the opening of the American pavilion, which would involve a large American flag being unfurled. The FLQ secretly informed the government that anyone who tried to raise the flag would be shot. The original government plan was to use a Boy Scout to raise it, under the assumption the FLQ would not assassinate a child, but this idea was rejected and an extremely nervous Scout leader wearing a bulletproof vest did so. Although he was not shot, it was discovered upon the unfurling of the flag that the canton with the stars had been cut out by a protester.

Canadians in the U.S. military

In counter-current to the movement American draft-dodgers and deserters to Canada, about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in southeast Asia. Among the volunteers were fifty Mohawks from the Kahnawake reservationmarker near Montreal. 110 Canadians died in Vietnam, and seven remain listed as Missing in Action. Canadian Peter C. Lemon was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for his valour in the conflict. (This cross-border enlistment was not unprecedented: In both the First and the Second World War, tens of thousands of Americans had joined the Canadian forces whilst their homeland was still neutral.)

In Windsor, Ontariomarker, there is a privately funded monument to the Canadians killed in the Vietnam War. In Melocheville, Quebec, there is a monument site funded by the Association Québécoise des Vétérans du Vietnam. However, many Canadian veterans returned to a society that was strongly anti-war. Unlike in the United States, there were no veterans organizations nor any help from the government. Many of them moved permanently to the United States. There has been ongoing pressure from Canadian Vietnam veterans to have their comrades' deaths formally acknowledged by the government, especially in times of remembrance such as Remembrance Day.

Assistance to the Americans

Canada's official diplomatic position in relation to the Vietnam War was that of a non-belligerent, which imposed a ban on the export of war-related items to the combat areas. Nonetheless, Canadian industry was also a major supplier of equipment and supplies to the American forces, not sending these directly to South Vietnam but to the United States. Sold goods included relatively benign items like boots, but also munitions, napalm and commercial defoliants, the use of which was fiercely opposed by anti-war protesters at the time. In accordance with the 1958 Defence Production Sharing Agreement, Canadian industry sold $2.47 billion in war materiel to the United States between 1965 and 1973. Many of the companies were owned by US parent firms, but all export sales over $100,000 US (and thus, the majority of contracts) were arranged through the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown corporation which acted as an intermediary between the U.S.marker Department of Defencemarker and Canadian industry. Furthermore, the Canadian and American Defense departments worked together to test chemical defoliants for use in Vietnam. Canada also allowed their NATOmarker ally to use Canadian facilities and bases for training exercises and weapons testing as per existing treaties.

Between 28 January 1973 and 31 July 1973, Canada provided 240 peacekeeping troops to Operation Gallant, the peace keeping operation associated with the International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) Vietnam, along with Hungarymarker, Indonesiamarker, and Polandmarker. Their role was to monitor the cease-fire in South Vietnam per the Paris Peace Accords. After Canada’s departure from the Commission, it was replaced by Iranmarker.


After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, thousands of refugees, known as boat people, fled Vietnam for both political and economic reasons. Canada agreed to accept many of them, in one of the largest single influxes of immigrants in Canadian history. This created a substantial Vietnamese community in Canada, concentrated especially in Vancouvermarker and Torontomarker.

The Vietnam War was an important cultural turning point in Canada. Coupled with Canada's centenary in 1967 and the success of Expo 67, Canada became far more independent and nationalistic. The public, if not their representatives in parliament, became more willing to oppose the United States and to move in a different direction socially and politically.

In 1981, a government report revealed that Agent Orange, the controversial defoliant, had been tested at CFB Gagetownmarker, New Brunswickmarker. In June 1966, the chemical was sprayed over nearly 600 acres (2.4 km²) of forest inside the base. There are differing opinions regarding the level of toxicity of the site, but as of 2006, the Canadian government says it is planning to compensate some of those who were exposed.

See also



  • In the Interests of Peace: Canada and Vietnam, 1954-73. Douglas A. Ross. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984,

Further reading

External links

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