Immigration to Canada, 1968-1972

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During the Vietnam War Era over one million men resisted the US military and its draft as the American middle class became both anti-militarist and anti-patriotic. Of these men some 60,000 to 100,000 went to Canada. Many deserters and draft dodgers returned to the United States within a few weeks or months but some 40,000 chose to remain in exile. Approximately 30,000 immigrated to Canada and 10,000 went to Sweden, Mexico or elsewhere. See Vietnam Era resistance to the US military.

During a normal year less than 10,000 Americans immigrate to Canada. Between 1968 and 1974 the number of legal American immigrants to Canada increased due to the immigration of American war resisters to Canada. The number of draft-age American immigrants to Canada began to rise in 1965, peaked in 1970 and declined to the normal number by 1975 (Kasinky, 78). (Insert link to “Reference Notes, file 1.4) The early arrivals were mostly young men fleeing the military draft. The number of American draft dodgers coming to Canada peaked between 1966 and 1968. US military deserters began to arrive a short time later. The number of US military deserters arriving in Canada peaked years between 1968 and 1970 (Tollefson, 65). The number of deserters reflected the rate of desertions from the US Army (that peaked at 7% in 1971) and desertions from the US Marines (that peaked at 6.5% in 1972) (Surrey, 59). The number of new draft-age arrivals aided by immigrant aid groups in Toronto increased from ten a day in 1968 to 25 a day in the fall of 1970, declined rapidly after December 1970 (Kasinky, 139) and then slowed to a trickle in 1971 (Levine, 439). In November 1972 the Canadian Parliament changed the Immigration Act and applications for immigration could no longer be made either at the border or from within Canada (Kasinky, 69). Estimates from census data indicate that 25,865 male and 26,804 female war resisters entered Canada between 1965 and 1974 (Hagan, 241).

As early as 1966 the Canadian Government decided that draft dodgers could not be barred entry to Canada simply because they were evading military service (Kasinky, 63) and most draft dodgers had little trouble becoming legal residents of Canada. 50% of draft dodgers had a college degree and Canadian officials believed that draft dodgers were more likely to succeed as immigrants than were deserters (Hagan, 227). Deserters faced a much more difficult situation and immigration officers at the border were given discretion to refuse to “land” deserters (Kasinky, 120). In May 1969 the Minister of Immigration ordered immigration officials to give equal treatment to draft dodgers and deserters (Kasinky, 124) but it was not until a change in Canadian regulations in 1973 that deserters were placed on an equal footing at the border with draft dodgers (Kasinky, 6). In large part because of the Canadian Government’s hostile attitude towards them and their subsequent inability to get legal permission to live and work in Canada, many deserters returned to the United States after only a few months in exile. As a result 80% of the men who stayed in Canada where draft dodgers and only about 20% were deserters (Hagan, 229).

A number of factors finally ended the flight of draft-age American youth to Canada. The US Selective Service System instituted a lottery in December 1970 that made the draft more predictable. Each day of the year was assigned a random number and men who were nineteen years old in January were ranked in the same order based upon their birthdate. Since each Local Draft Board was assigned an annual quota of men to draft from among its pool of eligible eighteen year-olds, it was easy for the men to estimate the likelihood of their being drafted. In general the upper one-third would be drafted, the middle one-third was questionable and the bottom one-third would not be drafted. The lottery system allowed draft-age men to plan ahead if they were assigned a low number and were likely to be drafted. They could either volunteer for the Army or attempt to enroll in the Reserves. At the same time draft counselors in the United States became more effective in helping men avoid being inducted and anti-draft lawyers learned how to delay court proceedings against draft dodgers for years. Draft boards became more reluctant to induct anti-war youth at the same time as young men became more effective at avoiding combat in Vietnam. High unemployment in Canada and political violence in Quebec increased the Canadian public’s opposition to large-scale immigration of American anti-war activists (Levine, 439) at about the same time that immigrant aid groups and draft counselors in Canada began to question immigration as an effective anti-war strategy (Kasinky, 104).

Although there were 26 immigrant aid groups in Canada serving incoming American war resisters in 1970 (Michaelson, Parade, Feb. 9, 1969), 70% of the Americans who immigrated to Canada during this period sought aid from the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (Kasinky, 80). The City of Toronto was the most common destination for draft dodgers and deserters and the American exile community in Toronto became the country’s largest and most visible. In the early 1970s there were 20,000 American war resisters in Toronto (Hagan, 66). About 50% of American draft dodgers in Canada lived in Toronto (Levine, 432) which is only an hour’s drive from either New York or Michigan and is Canada’s largest English-speaking city. In the late 1960s American war resisters were the largest group of immigrants to Toronto (Hagan, 219).

The Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (TADP) played an important role in facilitating the movement of American exiles to Canada. A copy of their handbook, Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, was mailed to hundreds of anti-war groups in the US and was widely available for purchase in the US. By 1970 the TADP had sold 65,000 copies of the handbook (Kasinky, 86). The booklet provided honest information that contradicted the US Government’s claims that the Canadian border was closed to young American men of draft age. The book contained specific instructions on how to successfully immigrate as well as the address and telephone number of the TADP office and its hostels. Most Americans arrived in Toronto as tourists and immediately sought out the TADP office. The TADP provided temporary housing, first in private homes and then in hostels and communes organized by American exiles (Surrey, 140). TADP staff helped the immigrants assemble the necessary documentation to obtain legal status as a Landed Immigrant to Canada, arranged transportation to the border for the application interview, provided “show money” and scheduled the trip to the border at the most favorable time and location. Men with marginal qualifications were paired with more qualified men and the two sent to the border together. After the men successfully immigrated, the TADP provided some assistance in finding employment.

The narrative continues at Finding a place to live.

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