COMMENTARY: Political refugee celebrates 50th anniversary of immigration to Canada

COMMENTARY: Political refugee celebrates 50th anniversary of immigration to Canada
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A political refugee is celebrating his 50th anniversary of immigrating to Canada, after walking away from the U.S. Army in 1970.

This week is my 50th anniversary of immigrating to Canada. In 1970 I was a political refugee. I walked away from the US Army, refusing to stay in the States where I would have most likely been sent to fight an unjust war in Vietnam, which I strongly opposed.

I think coming to Canada was one of the best decisions I ever made. Canada offered me a new beginning, a chance to start over without blood on my hands and with a clear conscience. Rather than taking lives, that had more to do more with saving face than it ever did with saving a false democracy, I became a Social Worker assisting those in need of a helping hand. A much better occupational choice.

I will forever be grateful to Canada for opening its doors, to not only myself but an estimated 100,000 ex-pat Americansm plus many other refugees from all over the world seeking sanctuary and fleeing violence and oppression.

I joined an army reserve unit in 1968 so that I would not get drafted and sent to Vietnam. I realized after a while that this was a mistake and that I was still part of the problem. I deserted my reserve unit, stopped going to call ups in late 1969 and had gone underground living by my middle and not my last name. I was activated for basic training just before Christmas in 1969 and did not report to the army base. My reserve unit thought that I was away at basic training and no one considered me missing for almost 6 months until they figured out I was not where I was supposed to be. The govt’ did not issue a federal warrant for my arrest until after I was already safely in Canada in July 1970 as a Landed Immigrant. The FBI showed up at my parent’s house that autumn looking for me, my mother would not give them any information about where I was living.

After the war was over, I was never issued discharge papers, the draft dodgers were all given a pardon. There were 50,000+ reservists and national guard members who refused to report for active duty by the end of the war. They simply dropped us from the roles of the US Army and turned us over to our draft boards, but with the war over, there was no longer a draft!

To check to see if the federal warrant for my arrest was really rescinded, in 1976, I applied for a US Passport at the consulate in Vancouver. They will not issue a passport if, for any reason,  you have an outstanding federal warrant. I completed the paperwork and handed it in. A guy in a suit came out and asked me to follow him to his back office where he started yelling that it was guys like me that had to cause the US to lose the war. I yelled back at him that it was baby killers and rapist like him that were the real problem, it went downhill from there. He told me that while he could not stop the govt’ from issuing me a passport that it would a month of Sundays until I would ever see it. On my way out of the office, one of the support staff whispered to me that she would take care of it personally. I got the passport couriered to me the next day…

Today, I am very much a Canadian and feel a deep love for my adopted country. Canada is not perfect and struggles with its own problems but compared to where I came from, we are miles ahead with finding solutions. My granddaughter Eva recently said that she is so very pleased that I immigrated and that she gets to grow up in Canada. Considering events in the States including their continuing historic racial inequities, a political system that is broken and incapable of healing itself, and their disastrous handling of the COVID-19 crisis causing untold misery and suffering, can anyone possibly think I made the wrong choice.

Thank you very much, Canada, for giving me a home.

Fred is retired after working for the Ministry of Health and lives with his wife Gail Miller in Oak Bay. They both enjoy kayaking, hiking, gardening and travelling having recently been to Colombia, Poland and Portugal.

Fred PishalskiFred Pishalski

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