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1968: Canada and the Vietnam War

In 1965, opinion polls showed that the American public supported their country's war effort in Vietnam by margins of 40 to 50% for and 10 to 25% against. As President, Lyndon Johnson closely followed opinion polls. But by this time support for the war was beginning to erode. On April 2, 1965, Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spoke at Temple University in Philadelphia and called for a pause in the American bombing of North Vietnam, so that a diplomatic solution could be pursued. Pearson had an international reputation as a diplomat and had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. Pearson's speech wasn't all that critical of the American position on the war. He had been most critical of the North Vietnamese. He said in his speech:

LBJPearson

"This situation cannot be expected to improve until North Vietnam becomes convinced that aggression, in whatever guise, for whatever reason, is inadmissible and will not succeed. No nation could ever feel secure if capitulation in Vietnam led to the sanctification of aggression through subversion and spurious wars of national liberation. Aggressive action by North Vietnam to bring about a Communist liberation of the South must end. Only then can there be negotiations."

But Pearson's call for a halt to the bombing that really irked LBJ. When Johnson learned about Pearson's criticism of American foreign policy on American soil, he was furious. He summoned Pearson to Camp David, Maryland for a meeting. The summons came while Pearson was giving the speech. Pearson attended the meeting the next day, on April 3, 1965. Reportedly Johnson ignored Pearson for much of the meeting, but later, when speaking directly to the Canadian Prime Minister, Johnson is said to have grabbed the much shorter Pearson by the lapels, lifted him off the ground and shouted, "Don't you come into my living room and piss on my rug."

Ever the diplomat, Pearson did not complain publicly about how he was treated. In a press conference given after the incident, Pearson said "I haven't much to say except it has been a very pleasant couple of hours and I am grateful to the President for giving me the chance to come to Camp David while I was in Philadelphia and having an exchange of views with him.

By 1968 support for the war began to erode. The aging Pearson stepped aside as Prime Minister and his successor as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada was the younger, more charismatic, Pierre Elliot Trudeau (father of the current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau). 1968 was an election year in Canada an Trudeau proved to be a very popular candidate. His adulation among voters, especially younger Canadians, was called "Trudeaumania". Many young people in Canada were influenced by the 1960s counterculture. They identified with Trudeau for his youth (he was 48 years old), his energy and his nonconformist rhetoric. Trudeau had once sympathized with Marxists and many of his fans were attracted to his culturally liberal stances. He supported the legalization of homosexuality and created more flexible divorce laws when he served as Minister of Justice Minister in Pearson's government. During Trudeau's election campaign in 1968 he was attending the annual Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, when rioting Quebec separatists threw rocks and bottles at the grandstand where he was seated. Rather than take cover, Trudeau stayed in his seat, facing the rioters, without any sign of fear. He handily won the election the next day.

During the Vietnam War, it is estimated that anywhere between 210,000 and 570,000 Americans were accused of draft offenses. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 Americans of draft age left the United States, mainly for Canada or Sweden. In 1968 a "Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada" was published advising those wishing to come to Canada to evade the draft how to do so. At first, the presence of U.S. draft evaders and deserters in Canada was highly controversial. Under Trudeau, the Canadian government chose to adopt a policy of welcoming them. Draft evasion was not a criminal offense under Canadian law. A distinction was made between those dodging the draft and those who were deserters. Desertion from the U.S. military was not on the list of crimes for which a person could be extradited under the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S.. but desertion was a crime in Canada, and the Canadian military strongly opposed condoning it. The Canadian government maintained the right to prosecute these deserters, but in practice left them alone and instructed border guards not to ask questions relating to the issue. It is estimated that the number of deserters who came to Canada were in the tens of thousands.

In Canada, many Vietnam War draft dodgers received pre-emigration counseling and post-emigration assistance from locally based groups. The largest of these organizations were the Montreal Council to Aid War Resisters, the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, and the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors. The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, published jointly by the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme and the House of Anansi Press, sold nearly 100,000 copies. A poll taken by a sociologist showed that the Manual had been read by over 55% of his data sample of U.S. Vietnam War emigrants either before or after they arrived in Canada. A Toronto-based political organization called the Union of American Exiles, better known as "Amex", was made up of American draft evaders and deserters in Canada. It lobbied and campaigned for universal, unconditional amnesty.

Those who left to avoid the draft faced imprisonment or forced military service if they returned home. The U.S. continued to prosecute draft dodgers after the end of the Vietnam War. It wasn't until September 1974, when President Gerald R. Ford offered an amnesty program for draft dodgers that required them to work in alternative service occupations for periods of six to 24 months. In 1977, one day after his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a campaign promise by offering pardons to anyone who had evaded the draft and requested one. It antagonized critics on both sides, with the right complaining that those pardoned paid no penalty and the left complaining that requesting a pardon required the admission of a crime. Some draft evaders returned to the U.S. from Canada after the 1977 pardon, but about half of them stayed in Canada.

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Pierre Trudeau served as Prime Minister of Canada for nearly 16 years, from April 20, 1968 to June 30, 1984 (aside from a 9 month period in 1979-80 when Canada was ruled by a minority government led by Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark.) In 1969 Trudeau told the National Press Club in Ottawa that living next to the U.S. "is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." Trudeau's support for those evading the draft irked Richard Nixon. Two years later, in 1971 it came out that President Richard Nixon called Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau "an asshole" in his private tapes. When this was disclosed. Trudeau replied, "I've been called worse things by better people." Later that year, after Trudeau had left a session with Nixon in the Oval Office, Nixon said to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff: "That Trudeau, he's a clever son of a bitch." Trudeau so infuriated Nixon during the visit that Nixon called him "a pompous egghead" and told Haldeman: "You've got to put it to these people for kicking the U.S. around after what we did for that lousy son of a bitch. Give it to somebody around here." Nixon then ordered Haldeman to plant a negative story about Trudeau with columnist Jack Anderson.
Tags: canada, lyndon johnson, richard nixon, vietnam
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