War Resister's March - Toronto's Legacy
They came to Canada in the tens of thousands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, draft resisters and deserters from the Vietnam War. Many of them chose to settle in Toronto, and although their government granted most of them amnesty after the war ended, few chose to return to the United States. They had been welcomed by a city and a country that supported their choice of conscience, and they now regarded this as home.
Yesterday they were reminded of their history as they met outside the U.S. Consulate on University Ave. to support the next wave of American war resisters, this time to the Iraq War. The Toronto rally and March was scheduled to coincide with larger marches in Washington, D.C. and London, England. It's a smaller movement this time around as there is no draft for the Iraq War. Therefore, the young American men who've arrived in Toronto to avoid going to Iraq are all deserters rather than draft resisters.
My father was a draft dodger, that's why we live in Toronto. I went to this march to demonstrate my support for the new arrivals, because I know how much my parents appreciated the support from so many Torontonians when they came over nearly 30 years ago. I arrived at the meeting place about half an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin, to find a good sized crowd already there. It was a good old-fashioned anti-war rally, and I hadn't been to one in years! The U.S. Consulate was clearly ready for anything, having barricaded the entire southbound section of University Ave. As well as U.S. security forces, a group of Toronto mounted police stood at the ready, what one wheelchair-bound veteran dismissively referred to as "the cavalry." More police waited in groups for the march to begin, but they were there mainly to assist by blocking off traffic.
The rally began with several speeches, one by an incredibly self-possessed 14 year-old Iraqi girl active in the anti-war movement. Her speech was impressive, although I could have done without the "Down with Zionism!" chant she led at the end. Patrick Park, a U.S. army deserter and nine-year veteran of the armed forces, spoke of his fight to stay in this country. Then a Vietnam era deserter spoke movingly to the crowd. "This is our city," he stated emphatically. "War resisters welcome here!" the crowd responded en masse.
With the speeches complete, the march began, heading north up University to Dundas St., and across Dundas to Yonge St. The ultimate destination was the Liberal Party headquarters, to urge Paul Martin's government to open our borders to U.S. military personnel who cannot in good conscience fight in Iraq. It's an important legacy for Canada, and one I think our current government should live up to.
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