Canadian Support for American Resisters of the Vietnam War

 

One way many Americans demonstrated their opposition to the Vietnam War was to refuse to fight in it. Tens of thousands of these war resisters fled to Canada where they were accepted as landed immigrants. Many stayed on and, eventually, became Canadian citizens.

The Canadian Government had a mixed record on Vietnam. We were never a war belligerent. Our official position was one of neutrality. But many Canadians perceived our government as being pro-France and pro-USA in the two Vietnam wars, and even complicit with the USA in the latter. This gave rise to the emergence of a broad Canadian war opposition, whose activities ranged from protests to support for American war resisters.

One of the Canadian faith groups that became part of the anti-war movement was the Board of Evangelism and Social Service of the United Church of Canada. This group was new to social activism, and in fact, Ray Hord, its anti-war Secretary as of 1963, was often on (and sometimes beyond) the outer fringes of United Church policy. Hord was a moral dynamo, attuned to and passionately involved with the major world issues of the day.

I first saw the Reverend Ray Hord in the early 1950’s, through the eyes of a child, when he was the minister at Lakeview United Church in Regina. My parents took me to his services from time to time. As a restless pre-teen with a limited attention span, I always breathed a sigh of relief when his sermons were over. But I was struck by his solemn and earnest demeanor, and eventually realized that many adults in the congregation listened to his stirring sermons, transfixed.

He left Regina in1959 and moved to Toronto. It was only after he assumed his new Board Secretary position that I happened to meet him once. By that time, he was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, and I can remember him speaking of the underground railway that was bringing American war resisters to Canada.

Hord rose to national prominence when, in 1967, he described Canada’s prime minister as a “puppy-dog on LBJ’s leash”. He stated that “Canadians should not support Americans who are bombing the hell out of those poor people”, adding that a God who is on the side of the hurt, the maimed, and the defenseless, must be on the side of the Vietnamese.

His next move was even more controversial. After contacting the Toronto Anti-Draft Program, he persuaded his Board to offer financial grants to congregations and groups who wished to provide American war resisters with temporary residence in Canadian homes.

This decision was quickly overturned by the United Church’s Moderator, and a few months later Hord died of a sudden heart attack.

But his stand was applauded by many other ministers, peace activists and even the future United Church Moderator, N. Bruce McLeod. His Church then went on to take much bolder action against the Vietnam War, working in conjunction with the Canadian Council of Churches and the Toronto Anti-Draft Program to aid American resisters in Canada.

Thus did Ray Hord leave his mark as a Canadian proponent of peace-building and non-killing.

 

By: D. J. Kiddo

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