According to the papers, Pearson indicated concern about the nature of the bombing and questioned Johnson about the potential use of nuclear weapons. While Pearson appeared willing to acknowledge that conventional bombing raids would be used against the North, he was clear that the deployment of nuclear weapons would be considered entirely unacceptable by both the Canadian government and people.
History has been critical for Pearson's handling of the situation. Canadians were in a potentially powerful position as partners in the ICC. Additionally, Pearson did not apprise Canadian citizens of the findings. Pearson's supporters point to the fact that should Pearson have chosen to release negative information to the Canadian public, it would have done little to dissuade the Americans from their plans. It would also have been likely that any information released to the public would have angered Lyndon Johnson resulting in economic sanctions against the Canadians. In a 1965 speech to Temple University students, Pearson suggested that a pause in the bombing may have been helpful in allowing Hanoi time to consider entering into negotiations. This alone set Johnson into a furor, so it is likely that a statement regarding bombing campaigns to the Canadian populace at large would only serve to hurt Canadian-American relations and nothing to reduce the bombing campaigns against the North Vietnamese. Pearson did send another emissary to Hanoi in an attempt to broker a peace deal in 1966. The outcome was negligible, since the Americans were not receptive to peace negotiations at the time.
Canada played its part in the chaotic final days of Saigon before the fall of the country to Northern and Nationalist forces5. The decision to close the embassy in Saigon and evacuate all personnel sparked a significant outcry from Canadians, especially when it was disclosed that Vietnamese Embassy staff would not be evacuated with the Canadians. Exit visas were issued to as many South Vietnamese as possible; Canadian embassy staff could do nothing to assist asylum seekers in obtaining transport from the country. Allied forces organized a program called "Operation Baby lift," in an attempt to evacuate as many orphaned babies from Vietnam as possible. The attempt ended in tragedy. While a jumbo jet had been promised to transport the babies, the United States only ever gave a C-5 cargo plane. On the first evacuation attempt, a sudden drop in pressure occurred when the plane reached 18,000 feet. Three nurses and several babies were ejected out in mid-air and the plane crashed.
At Home and Abroad
The Vietnam War was unpopular in the United States, Canada and abroad. In 1968, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau remarked that the Vietnam War was of no moral consequence to the Canadians, and remarked to a CBC reporter "If it were a question of morality and if I felt that it were bad to sell arms to the United States in a moral sense then I would have to feel that it's bad also to sell them nickel and asbestos and airplane components."6 but as popular sentiment surrounding the war grew in Canada, politicians realized that simply distancing themselves from the problem would no longer suffice. Eventually even Trudeau would reverse his laissez faire attitude towards the War, publicly condemning American action in Indo-China and allowing asylum seekers into Canada
Canada and Agent Orange
The Uniroyal plant in Elmira, Ontario was one of the seven supplies who produced Agent Orange for the United States7. According to the United States Veteran's administration, approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides were used in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. The primary objective was to remove plant life which provided cover for enemy forces. A scientific report released in 1970 indicated that one of the primary components of Agent Orange, 2, 4, 5-T could cause birth defects in lab animals. More than that, the herbicide contained dioxins, which are also deadly to human beings. The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam was suspended, but veterans returning from the war reported much illness and there was concern that the soldier's exposure to Agent Orange may have been a causative factor. After years of denial, Canadian government admitted in 1980 that testing of Agent Orange was conducted at a Canadian military base called Gagetown in the 1960. Initially, the government reported the tests were only done to evaluate the effect of Agent Orange on vegetation. Before the use of Agent Orange was stopped, eleven million gallons had been spread over South Vietnam.
Half of the forests which were defoliated in the Vietnam War are unrestored as of 2002. A Canadian team has studied the levels of dioxin still present in Vietnam, and found that the Dioxins sprayed over 30 years ago are still entering the food chain.
Additionally, studies show that children in the most heavily sprayed areas are more than three times as likely to have cleft palates, be mentally retarded, have polydactyly and nearly eight times as likely to be born with hernias8. In 1979, a class action suit was filed against the manufacturers of Agent Orange, and remuneration was paid to victims of exposure in Canada and the United States. The chemical companies paid $180 million into a fund to pay those who claimed serious disease or disability from Agent Orange exposure. None of that money has been made available to the people of Vietnam.
Canadian Asylum Seekers
When Pierre Trudeau agreed to accept "draft dodgers" for emigration into Canada, more than 400,000 Americans applied took Canadian residency between 1968 and 1979. Of those, approximately 50,000 were males of draft age and fled to Canada rather than be forcibly inducted into the American armed forces. Americans immigrated to Canada as a response to military and foreign policy at the time. Several Canadian based anti-war organizations, like the Student union for Peace Actions made it easier for these individuals to immigrate, and the Manual for Draft Age Immigrants to Canada9 was a popular primer on avoiding the draft. Deserters from the American forces fled to Canada rather than risk service in Vietnam. The Americans urged Canadians to arrest deserters, but in May 1969, the Canadian government ceased all attempts to track down draft dodgers and deserters. This resulted in criticism from the American government.
Some of the men who sought asylum in Canada from the Vietnam War returned to the United States in 1977. Changing political and popular views of the war led President Jimmy Carter to grant pardon to American expatriates in Canada. Despite the pardon, it is estimated that over half chose to stay in Canada.
Canadian Change of Heart
By the late 1960s, Canada could no longer support the American war in Vietnam on an economic level while turning a blind eye to the escalating casualty counts. The war lacked clear objectives. There appeared to be no end in sight. Canadian politicians became more aware of declining public opinion, but feared economic retaliation on the part of the U.S. It was not enough to keep supporting such an unpopular and evidently pointless war.
In the interval since the Second World War, Canada had changed its foreign policy to one of multilateralism. Canada would have been unable to mount an intervention in Vietnam. This is not to say that Canadians did not fight in the Vietnam War. Many Canadians joined the United States military to serve in Vietnam, and at least 110 Canadians died in service during the Vietnam conflict.
Canada, like many other Western countries, has forfeited extensive military capability in favor of social services. Canada does not have the ability to intervene on the scale of the United States, nor would the populace likely support the degree of intervention provided by countries like the United States and Britain. Canadian foreign policy has matured to the point where she no longer simply the shoulders on which American can place her foreign policy and expect unquestioning support and participation. Canada continues to be an active member of the United Nations, NATO, plays a pivotal role in global political action. Canada is a high profile contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts and has sent more troops to more countries than any of its allies. Canadian foreign policy is based upon the purposes of the United Nations, which are 1) to maintain peace and security; 2) to develop friendly relations among nations; and 3) to cooperate internationally in solving economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems.
Canada has been a participant in almost every UN sanctioned peacekeeping operation. As a participant in Desert Storm in the early 1990s, Canada supported coalition troops from Britain, France, Germany and the United States. Canadian Armed Forces are also participating in nation building and peacekeeping efforts underway in Afghanistan. Under the Afghanistan Compact, Canada has promised full support and monitors program while supporting obligations to the Afghan government and the international community.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien agrees that the United States is likely Canada's most important foreign ally. But Chretien and his successors have cultivated a slightly more…