Vietnam War draft dodgers reunite in Canada
By Allan Dowd
CASTLEGAR, British Columbia (Reuters) – Three decades after
they fled the United States to avoid the Vietnam War, a small
group of former draft dodgers gathered in Canada on Thursday,
more convinced than ever that their anti-war stand was right.
The start of the four-day “Our Way Home” conference in
Castlegar, in southeastern British Columbia, coincided by
chance with a White House meeting on Thursday between President
George Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Organizers expect several hundred people, including draft
dodgers, relatives and veterans who later opposed the war, to
attend the event.
It is estimated that more than 50,000 draft-age Americans
moved to Canada to avoid U.S. prosecution for refusing military
service. Many returned after U.S. President Jimmy Carter
granted them amnesty in 1977.
Those gathered at Castlegar — now men in their 50s – refer
to themselves as war resisters, not draft dodgers. Their views
are still strongly held.
Craig Wiester, who moved to Montreal in 1968 after being
drafted into the military, said Americans have amnesia about
the men who left their families rather than fight in a war that
even some U.S. officials now say was wrong.
“Why are we still dishonored in American society … those
of us who said (the war was wrong) and knew it, and acted out
our feelings on that,” said Wiester, 59, who now lives in
He said although his father, a World War Two veteran,
personally hated the Vietnam War, he nonetheless reported his
own son to the FBI after learning he was planning to refuse
“I think he would have rather had me come home in a body
bag from the jungles than go to Canada.”
The Liberal Canadian government of the Vietnam era welcomed
the war opponents as potential immigrants, but Harper’s
recently elected Conservative government has opposed the idea
of Canada being sanctuary for U.S. soldiers opposed to the Iraq
“I would like the government of Canada to assist American
war resisters who wish to stop serving the U.S. military if
that is their personal choice,” said David James Brown, 59, who
moved north in 1968 and now lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Wiester said politicians who supported going to war in Iraq
to find weapons of mass destruction should have learned lessons
from some of the claims that were made for sending troops to
Vietnam but later turned out to be false.
“Somebody should have smelled a rat,” he said.
Peace activist Isaac Romano, who moved to Canada from the
United States in 2001, said he helped organize the conference
to honor both the Americans who opposed the war and Canadians
who helped them establish new lives.
The event – whose speakers will include former U.S. Senator
and anti-war 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern – is
being held in British Columbia’s Kootenay region because it is
still home to many of the draft dodgers.
Organizers will also unveil a sculpture this weekend in
Nelson, British Columbia.
The sculpture was first proposed in 2004, but the plan was
quickly dropped after it was denounced by conservative media
commentators in the United States and the U.S. Veterans of
By contrast, plans for this gathering and sculpture have
gone almost unnoticed in the U.S. media, and there have been no
“It could be that (the 2004 announcement) was at the
beginning of the Iraq War, before people discovered what was
going to unfold,” Romanow said.