July 8, 2006

McGovern praises Canada on Vietnam draft dodgers

By Allan Dowd

CASTLEGAR, British Columbia (Reuters) - George McGovern,
who ran for the U.S. presidency on an anti-Vietnam War
platform, said on Saturday history will show Canada was right
to have sheltered that era's war resisters.

McGovern, who was in Canada to speak to a reunion of
Vietnam War draft dodgers, said the Iraq war was also "needless
and mistaken," but he said it would be presumptuous of him to
say Canada should again provide haven for U.S. deserters.

"I always appreciated the generosity and imagination of
Canada... I think history will be on the side of the
Canadians," McGovern, 83, said, prior to addressing the event
in Castlegar, British Columbia.

McGovern, a U.S. senator from South Dakota and Democratic
presidential candidate in 1972, called for American troops to
be withdrawn from Vietnam in his presidential campaign
platform. He also supported an amnesty for draft dodgers. He
lost the presidential race to Richard Nixon in a landslide.

During the Vietnam War, the Canadian government viewed
draft dodgers and military deserters as potential immigrants.
More than 50,000 entered the country, although about half
returned after President Carter granted amnesty in 1977 to
those who fled the draft.

Many of the estimated 300 people at the "Our Way Home"
reunion in Castlegar, about 375 miles east of Vancouver,
believe Canada should be doing the same thing now.

Iraq war military deserters must now apply as political
refugees, but Canadian immigration officials are refusing to
allow them to argue they were fleeing an illegal war. Peace
activists want that rule changed.


Kyle Snyder, 22, who served as a combat engineer in Iraq
before deserting in protest admitted he was surprised by the
change, and had entered Canada with an outdated view of its
political position.

"The opposition was strange to me because I thought I was
making the right decision under the Geneva Convention," said
Snyder, one of about two dozen deserters who are pursuing
refugee claims.

Gerry Condon, a Vietnam deserter helping Snyder, said the
fact that the draft was eliminated should not matter. Many
soldiers in Iraq are there only because of a lack of civilian
jobs, or because their enlistments were involuntarily extended,
he said.

"In my opinion, it is George Bush who has broken the
contract with the young soldiers, and not the other way
around," Condon said.

Peace activists blame Canada's refusal to accept deserters
on Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's desire for
close relations with the White House, but the rule barring the
"illegal war" argument in refugee claims dates to a previous
Liberal government.

Tom Hayden, the veteran peace activist who addressed the
event earlier in the week, said Canadians worried about a U.S.
backlash should remember they survived any fallout from
accepting Vietnam deserters.

"The problem here is that Harper and Bush are ideological
bedfellows," Hayden said.

Organizers of the Castlegar event said they wanted to honor
both the Americans resisters and Canadians who helped them. It
was held in southeast British Columbia's Kootenay region
because many draft dodgers settled there.