Canada and the Vietnam War

Canada and the Vietnam War

Canada 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. Nevertheless, the war had considerable effects on Canada, while Canada and Canadians affected the war, in return.


During the Cold War, Canada was firmly among with the Western democracies, as against being a non-aligned state. For instance, Canada was a founding member of NATO, and was instrumental in the forming of that military alliance against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Canada's foreign policy, though, 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 Korea, under a United Nations resolution.

During the First Indochina War between France 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.Fact|date=February 2007

Canada laid out six prerequisites to joining a war effort or Asian alliance like SEATO:
# It had to involve cultural and trade ties in addition to a military alliance.
# It had to demonstrably meet the will of the people in the countries involved.
# Other free Asian states had to support it directly or in principle.
# France had to refer the conflict to United Nations.
# Any multilateral action must conform to the UN charter.
# Any action had to be divorced from all elements of colonialism.Fact|date=February 2007

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.Fact|date=February 2007 Some delegates even engaged in espionage on behalf of the Americans, with the approval of the Canadian government.Fact|date=February 2007 Canada also sent foreign aid to South Vietnam, which, while humanitarian, was directed by the Americans.Fact|date=February 2007

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, occasionally.Fact|date=February 2007 Meanwhile, Canadian industry exported military supplies and raw materials useful in their manufacture, including ammunition, napalm and Agent Orange, [ Supplying the war machine] - CBC Archives] 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 University in the United States which, in the context of firm support for U.S. policy, called for a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam.Fact|date=February 2007

Draft dodgers

A large number of draft dodgers, young American men facing conscription for the Vietnam War, decided to flee to Canada rather than serve in the American armed forces. These young men became concentrated in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. 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 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, dodgers 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. [ Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada] by Mark Satin]

Deserters from the American forces 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 influx of these young men, who in many cases were 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 dodgers 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. The deserters have not been pardoned and may still face "pro forma" arrest and release, as the case of Allen Abney demonstrated in March 2006. [ Deserter says he was treated well by U.S. military] , CBC News, 30/20/2006]

Estimates of how many Americans settled in Canada to avoid service vary greatly. Canadian immigration statistics show that 20,000 to 30,000 draft-eligible American men came to Canada as immigrants during the Vietnam era; 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 [ Draft-dodger memorial to be built in B.C.] , CBC News, 09/08/2004] This exodus was "the largest politically motivated migration from the United States since the United Empire Loyalists moved north to oppose the American Revolution.""On Strawberry Hill" by Chris Turner in The Walrus, September 2007.] Major communities of war resisters formed in the Slocan Valley and on Baldwin Street in Toronto.

Prominent draft dodgers who stayed in Canada permanently, or for a significant amount of time include:
* Jim Green- Vancouver city cousellor and mayoral candidate
* Dan Murphy- political cartoonist
* Andy Barrie- Host of CBC Radio's Metro Morning
* the father of Svend Robinson, former Member of Parliament
* Jack Todd - award-winning sports columnist for the "Montreal Gazette"
* Eric Nagler - Children's entertainer on The Elephant Show.
* Mike Fisher - A founding member of Heart - a popular rock/pop band [ [ JAM! Music] - Pop Encyclopedia]
* Jesse Winchester Singer-songwriter.
* Morgan Davis- blues musicianFact|date=August 2008

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 Quebec, the anti-war movement was also strong, and even violent: The FLQ, a terrorist 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.Fact|date=February 2007

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.cite web| title =Canada's Secret War: Vietnam| publisher =CBC| url =| accessdate = 2007-04-07 ] Among the volunteers were fifty Mohawks from the Kahnawake reservation near Montreal.cite book| last =Morrison| first =Wilbur H.| title =The Elephant and the Tiger| publisher =Hellgate Press| date =2001| pages =p. 597| id = ISBN 1-55571-612-1 ] One-hundred-and-ten Canadians died in Vietnam, and seven remain listed as Missing in Action. Canadian Peter C. Lemon won 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, Ontario, there is a privately funded monument to the Canadians killed in the Vietnam War.cite web| title =Canadian Vietnam Memorial - "The North Wall"| publisher =Edna Barney (self published)| url =| accessdate = 2007-04-07 ] In Melocheville, Quebec, there is a monument site funded by the Association Québécoise des Vétérans du Vietnam.cite web| title =Canadian Vietnam Veterans Monument| publisher =Association Québécoise des Vétérans du Vietnam| url =| accessdate = 2007-04-07 ] 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.Fact|date=November 2007 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. Department of Defence and Canadian industry. Furthermore, the Canadian and American Defense departments worked together to test chemical defoliants for use in Vietnam. This collaboration was only revealed to the public in 1981. "History of the Canadian Peoples, 1867-Present," Alvin Finkel & Margaret Conrad, 1998] Canada also allowed their NATO 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 Hungary, Indonesia, and Poland. [ Vietnam War Bibliography] Edwin Moise. Contains numerous sources on ICCS.] Their role was to monitor the cease-fire in South Vietnam per the Paris Peace Accords. [ [ Control and Supervision Vietnam 1973 - ICCS] , Veterans Affairs Canada, March 26, 2001] After Canada’s departure from the Commission, it was replaced by Iran.


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 Vancouver and Toronto.Fact|date=May 2007

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.Fact|date=February 2007

In 1981, a government report revealed that Agent Orange, the controversial defoliant, had been tested at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick. [ CBC Archives] - A 1981 news broadcast on Vietnam era "Agent Orange" testing in Base Gagetown, New Brunswick] In June of 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.



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

Further reading

* [ CBC - As it Happens - Canada and the Vietnam War]
* [ CBC Archives] - Canada's Secret War: Vietnam (video timeline)
* [ CBC Archives] - Seeking Sanctuary: Draft Dodgers (video timeline)
* [ Vietnam War Resisters in Canada]
* [ Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada] by Mark Satin
* [ Vietnam Veterans With a Mission website] - Information and pictures
*"Quiet Complicity, Canadian Involvement in the Vietnam War", by Victor Levant, Forward by Gwynne Dyer, Between the Lines.
*"Snow Job: Canada, the United States, and Vietnam (1954-1973)", by Charles Taylor, Toronto, Anansi, 1975.
*"Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada", by John Hagan, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001.

External links

* [ Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial Association]
* [ Vietnam Veterans in Canada] (advocacy group)
* [ The North Wall, Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial]
* [ Association Québécoise des Vétérans du Vietnam]
* [ "Vietnam War", by Victor Levant, in "The Canadian Encyclopedia"]

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