Should Trump win, Canada will benefit from fourth wave of US refugees

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 17, 2016

There are a few reasons why Canadians might welcome the prospect of Donald Trump winning the United States presidency, among them that it may set off the fourth wave of refugees seeking sanctuary in this country from political persecution and upheaval at home.

By and large, Canada has done well out of all these waves of migrants fleeing the U.S. In all likelihood the Trump refugees would, as in the past, be dominated by moral, thoughtful and socially committed people who would be a boon to Canada and a loss to the U.S.

The first wave of migrants into Canada were the Loyalists, who were thrown off their land and often brutally persecuted in the American Revolutionary War. The Loyalists chose to come to Canada and to fight with the British forces against the rebels. They became an essential element in the early growth of the Canadian colonies, especially in the Maritimes and what was then Upper Canada.

The second wave of American refugees was a much longer and sustained movement. It was of escaped slaves from the southern states and began even before the American Revolutionary War – several regiments of freed slaves based in the Maritimes fought against the rebels – and continued until the end of slavery in the 1860s.

The third wave was the tens of thousands of young Americans who slipped into Canada in the 1960s and 1970s to avoid being sent to the Vietnam War. An historical report on the Canadian Department of Immigration’s web site notes that “most of them put down roots in Canada, making up the largest, best-educated group this country had ever received.”

At first glance, the list of U.S. Americans threatening to move to Canada if Trump is elected is not so encouraging. It is dominated by “celebrities” like Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell and someone called Lena Dunham. It is always a mystery why “celebrities” get the idea that having a public profile gives them unchallengeable insights into things about which they know little or nothing more than any other citizen. But they do seem to have influence, which is probably why a game show performer and third-rate business huckster can be on the verge of becoming U.S. president.

Perhaps more encouraging were the results of a poll conducted by Ipsos for Global News in March which found that 19 percent of Americans will consider moving to Canada if Trump is elected president. The number went up to 28 per cent among the 18 to 34 age range. Now, in fairness, it must be said that only a small minority of those are likely to follow through on their angst if Trump gets possession of the Oval Office, and that 15 percent said they’d move to Canada if Hillary Clinton gets elected. And Ipsos’ senior vice-president Julia Clark said of the poll that she thought it more accurately represented the deep-seated anger of American voters on both sides of the divide than their real intentions.

Canadians may have qualms about welcoming a flood of refugees from a Clinton presidency, though there are parts of this country where they might be welcomed with open arms.

Even so, history tells us we should look at the prospect of Trump refugees with a welcoming grin.

The most recent wave of American political refugees to come to Canada was, of course, the draft dodgers and deserters – who usually prefer to be called “war resisters” – during the U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese civil war in the 1960s and 1970s.

There are no reliable figures for how many American resisters – many accompanied by their partners and families – came to Canada over the period from 1962, when the first known draft dodger arrived, until conscription was ended in December 1972. Estimates vary from lows of between 10,000 to 20,000 up to as many as 125,000. Canadian government figures from the time when the refugees’ status was regularised suggest the number was around 80,000, which was the number generally accepted as realistic by journalists, such as myself, covering the story at the time.

Equally uncertain is how many stayed after President Jimmy Carter in January 1977 issued a pardon for draft evaders covering the period from August 1964 up to the end of March 1973. There was no amnesty for deserters, and still isn’t. Many Canadians have friends, neighbours and relatives who still cannot go to their birth-place for fear of arrest. I have people in my life in all those categories.

How many of the Americans chose to stay in Canada is still uncertain, but a widely accepted rough guess is 50,000.

As the Canadian government document quoted above indicates, the war resisters were a well-educated and socially conscious group. That said, they spanned a wide social spectrum. Many came out of the U.S. counter-culture and naturally gravitated towards Canada’s Hippie communities in Toronto, Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. There was a famous community of American refugee resisters and Canadian Hippies at Sointula, on Malcolm Island off Vancouver Island’s Port McNeill. But there are still many resisters living throughout the Gulf Islands. Most graduated from the back-to-the-land and five-acres-and-a-cow homesteading movement when they arrived to all kinds of rural entrepreneurial enterprises from arts and crafts to, of course, marijuana cultivation and everything in between.

Among the resisters who stayed in the cities two strands stand out. Academics gravitated towards Canadian universities and provided a welcome injection of fresh thinking and cultural diversity into Canada’s scholastic institutions. Look at any Canadian university over the last 40 years and there will be a liberal sprinkling of senior professors who arrived as draft evaders or deserters.

The media was the other favourite career path for the American refugees. There is no accounting that I can find of how many and who among Canada’s journalists came here as resisters. It would be unfair to signal out some for mention and not others simply because they have not publicised their heritage. But when I worked at Southam News, the metropolitan daily papers’ national and foreign reporting agency, in the 1980s and 1990s about half a dozen of our staff were either dodgers, deserters, or the children of resisters who had been born in the U.S. before their parents fled north.

Several academic studies reckon that around 60,000 American Loyalists moved to Canada during and immediately after the American Revolutionary War, which the Americans call the War of Independence. That puts their numbers at roughly the same as the Vietnam War resisters. Before the Revolutionary War there had been only a few thousand English-speaking pioneers in what is now Canada while there were at least 80,000 French-speaking settlers. The Loyalists flooded into the Maritimes — New Brunswick was created to accommodate the new arrivals — as well as the western St. Lawrence River Valley, the Niagara Peninsula, and the regions between Lake Erie and Lake Huron in what is now Ontario. It is no exaggeration to say that the Loyalists laid the foundations for what is now Canada. By the time of the outbreak of war with the United States in 1812 there were about 100,000 people in Upper Canada, now Ontario, of whom about 80 per cent were Loyalists who had been born in the American colonies.

“Canada itself was fundamentally affected by this influx of Americans. Many analysts have observed that the Canadian national character was shaped by the conservative, authoritarian viewpoint of the Loyalist immigrants, suggesting that the central fact of Canadian history has been this rejection of the American revolution,” says Mary Murphy in her 1989 study of the American immigrations to Canada.

That’s a debatable point of view, but it has a strong kernel of truth, certainly for the early decades of the Canadian colonies and much of the first century of confederation.

Among the Loyalists who came to the British North American colonies were about 3,000 freed black slaves. However, some of the Loyalists “owned” slaves, but the governor of Upper Canada, John Simcoe, in 1793 outlawed the further importation of slaves while also requiring progressive emancipation of those already within his jurisdiction. In 1833 slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. From the start, escaped slaves were encouraged to get to the Canadian colonies, where they were provided with free land.

The Underground Railway into Canada for escaped slaves from the U.S. southern states was started by abolitionists around 1820. The main crossing points into Canada were in the Maritimes and Ontario. By the start of the American Civil War in 1861 about 30,000 escaped slaves had settled in southern Ontario. But although 19th Century Canadians found slavery abhorrent, they were not paragons of tolerance. The black refugees were consigned to ghettos of one sort or another, which is one reason why so many returned to the U.S. after the Civil War and the end of slavery.

Even so, as Murphy comments in her 1989 study: “The unquestioned acceptance of escaped slaves was, without a doubt, the greatest service that Canada has ever provided for Americans.”

Any influx of Trump refugees will not be as dramatic or profound, but come November 9 it would be as well to put some extra beers in the fridge and tidy up the guest bedroom.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.


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