After seven years of exile in Canada because he evaded the American draft, Steve Bishop can go home again. He can pack his bags and hop a bus and no one will bother him at the border. But after years of making Canadian friends, beginning a career and building a life, Bishop doesn’t want to go home. If President Jimmy Carter expected his first-day-in-office pardon* of draft evaders to bring a flood of eager dodgers across the border, he has been disappointed. Even on the first weekend following the announcement, border points reported only a few isolated evaders going home and all those said they were just visiting. Two weeks later, the rush home had still not developed. Says 29-year-old Bishop, a library assistant in Toronto: “Canada is my home. I’ve been able to live the kind of life I want here and I’m staying.” Bishop says he would feel uncomfortable going back to his hometown of Vicksburg, Michigan. “I feel the only people in that town who think I did the right thing are my parents. They want me back for a visit at Christmas and I’ll wait until then.”
There are probably 20,000 Americans still in Canada who left the United States because of the Vietnam War. (In the early Seventies the figure probably got as high as 50,000, but most couldn’t get landed immigrant status and have either gone back to face the music or gone underground in the States.) About half of the estimated 20,000 still here are deserters and thus disappointed that the Carter pardon did not include them. And of the estimated 10,000 included in the pardon, only about 3,000 could, if they wanted, move back home. About 7,000 are now Canadian citizens and must stand in line (about 2Vi years) with other aliens. The pardon, however, clears the way for draft evaders with Canadian citizenship to visit the States freely.
And a visit is all most of them seem to want. Larry Martin, a member of the Committee to Aid American War Objectors, says about 500 people in British Columbia are affected by the pardon but few will take advantage of it. In fact, last week Martin still hadn’t heard of anyone going home to stay. Folk singer and songwriter Jesse Winchester of Montreal (Yankee Lady) probably typifies the majority reaction. Winchester, now 32, fled to Canada 10 years ago to avoid the draft. He’s been building a following in Canada ever since. He married a French-Canadian girl and has two children. “Nothing is going to change,” he says. “I'd like to be able to visit the States and maybe work there if possible, but I’d like to live in Canada now.” Indeed, most of the draft evaders who
*President Carter’s pardon was the first in this century. Following the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. draft evasions and desertions were handled on a case-by-case basis through the military and civilian courts. An extremely limited pardon was granted to Confederate army soldiers.
DRAFT EVADERS: UNCLE JIM WANTS
came to Canada beginning in 1964 have spent their entire adult life here. They were in their late teens or early twenties when they arrived and are now into their thirties. Many have married and have children studying in Canadian schools. Some have invested 10 or 12 years in careers. The idea of giving it all up to begin a new life and a new career in the States has little appeal.
The impact of American draft evaders on Canada has been considerable. President Ford’s report on evaders and deserters during the Vietnam era (officially spelled out in the Carter pardon as between August 4,1964, and March 28,1973) found draft evaders to be mostly university educated. In Canada they’ve made their presence felt on university faculties (sometimes controversially), in the medical and legal professions and on teaching staffs of elementary and secondary schools. That impact is not likely to be altered with the Carter pardon. In fact, the greatest reaction to the pardon concerns those who are not affected by it. As well as the 10,000 deserters in Canada there are an estimated 90,000 other deserters, many of them still in the United States, who had hoped for inclusion in the pardon. Then there are those with a less-than-honorable discharge—a whopping 700,000, according to some estimates. Just exactly what Carter intends to do about them is still uncertain. There had been some hope that deserters would be included in the announced pardon. Instead, Carter—who started his own career as a naval officer and is steeped in forces tradition—announced a Pentagon study will be launched and a case-by-case review for deserters will proceed. White House sources have squelched any hope for a further mass granting of amnesty, indicating the President considers the pardon procedure largely over. “I guess you might say that pardoning a deserter was just too much for him,” one White House source said. “It just stuck in his throat, letting a man off who had broken a solemn military oath to serve. You see, the draft dodgers hadn’t taken the oath, and that matters a lot to the President.”
Predictably, Vietnam War resistance movements around the world condemned the exclusion of deserters and vowed to continue the fight for total, unconditional amnesty for deserters and veterans with less-than-honorable discharges. In Sweden, Mike Powers, a spokesman for about 300 deserters and evaders in that country, called the pardon “disappointing, inconsistent and hypocritical.” From France, Tom Nagel, who belongs to an organization claiming to speak for about 1,800 American exiles there, called the pardon “a positive step forward but not the end.” Nagel, a deserter, urged Carter not to stick himself with the limited pardon until the end of his administration. In Toronto, Jack Colhoun of Amex (see box) said the pardon was a farce. And in Washington, Senator Barry Goldwater echoed the war cry of Legion and military organizations around the country. Said the hyperbolic Goldwater: “It’s the most disgraceful thing a President has ever done.”
“I suppose he means since President Ford pardoned Nixon,” said one deserter, pinpointing the disparate reactions. One thing is clear: the healing, as Carter billed his limited pardon, is nowhere near complete. HARTLEY STEWARD
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.