As I write this, it’s December 23rd, a date to me a lot more memorable than all the December 25ths of my lifetime. It was on December 23rd, 1969, that Christmas came early for me, when I was given the gift of sanctuary in the country I now call my own. 38 years ago tonight, an anniversary I still celebrate every year, I crossed the border into Canada at Darby Line, Vermont.
This was not where I’d been told to be by the U.S. Army. They wanted me that day to be on my way to Saigon, where Specialist Fourth Class Andrew Barrie had been ordered to serve his country in the Viet Nam war. Canada, as with Iraq today, had stayed away from Viet Nam and wound up welcoming upwards of a hundred thousand of us war resisters who’d made the same decision.
What was very different then was the immigration policy that allowed us to enter this country and apply, once here, for landed immigrant status. Now, if you want to immigrate to Canada, you have to apply from outside and wait your turn. Which is why today, young men like me who refuse to serve in Iraq have to find their way here and then ask to be recognized as refugees. So far, they’ve failed in that request, their argument being that ever since Nuremberg, it’s been a principle of law that an individual soldier can’t use the defense that he was only following orders when accused of a war crime.
But the refugee review board refuses to hear arguments about the legality of the war, so the resisters here wait and wonder what’s next. In my case, all I had to do was apply for immigration and get on with becoming and being the best Canadian I could.
It’s beyond my powers to measure my gratitude that all these years ago there was room at the inn called Canada, and how my thoughts today are with the young men who want to study war no more. Blessed are the peacemakers, we’re told. I hope they might enjoy the blessings of a life in my home, if not my native, land.