Canada's Position on the Vietnam War

While the Vietnam War is largely regarded as an American operation, Canada's role in the war is less well known.
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It's commonly believed in the U.S. that Canada was strictly neutral during the Vietnam War; indeed, thousands of young Americans opposed to the war headed across the border rather than face the draft. But while Canada was a non-belligerent nation, and the populace was largely against the war, the government was more involved than many realize.

1 Diplomatic Aid

From 1954 to 1973, Canada was a member of the International Control Commission, which oversaw truce agreements in Vietnam and was limited to neutral nations. However, historians, including Victor Levant, found that Canada often assisted the U.S. clandestinely. They passed classified ICC information to the United States; consistently took an American-South Vietnamese viewpoint when it came to human rights violations; and in 1962 signed a trumped-up report that claimed communist North Vietnam had provoked an insurrection in South Vietnam, a report that the United States used to widen the war. The release of what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers revealed many ways in which Canada aided the United States diplomatically. In May 1964, for example, Prime Minister Pearson told Washington "he would understand" if the U.S. began bombing the North, although other observers say this statement could be interpreted in different ways.

2 Material Assistance

While Canada sent no men or munitions directly to Vietnam, the country's humanitarian aid -- totaling $29 million -- was sent only to South Vietnam, and was directed through the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon. Indeed, the Canadian government more than once stopped shipments of aid to North Vietnam. Canadian manufacturers sold $2.5 billion of supplies such as napalm, ammunition and explosives to the U.S. armed forces, and more than $10 billion of other supplies such as food, clothing and raw materials. Canadian assistance included training as well -- American pilots practiced bombing techniques at sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the defoliant Agent Orange was tested in New Brunswick.

3 American Draft Resisters

Canada was not an official participant in the war, and many young American men took advantage of Canada's official neutrality and headed across the border to avoid U.S. military service. There are no official figures on how many draft resisters ended up in Canada; a "Chicago Tribune" report in 1985 put the number between 10,000 and 100,000. In 1977, U.S. president Jimmy Carter granted amnesty for American "draft dodgers" to return to their home country; it's estimated that about two-thirds went back.

4 Canadians in Vietnam

While some Americans headed for Canada to avoid U.S. military service, there was a flow in the opposite direction -- an estimated 30,000 Canadians crossed the border to serve with U.S. forces in Vietnam. Ray Heimes, an American Vietnam veteran, told "The Prince George Citizen" in 2012 that he fought alongside many Canadians. Some were attracted by the chance to see the world, he said; some wanted to keep up with the military tradition of their fathers and grandfathers; some just needed a job. Heimes added that Canadians looking to fight in Vietnam who lived close to the border would use an American friend's address, or a U.S. post-office box, as their address for residency purposes. The Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Windsor, Ontario memorializes 125 Canadians killed in Vietnam.

Rick Massimo worked as a feature writer at "The Providence Journal" for nine years. He has won awards in arts criticism, science writing and diversity in media. Massimo holds a B.A. in English from George Washington University and an M.F.A. in playwriting from Brandeis University.