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Malcolm Shookner on The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada

Malcolm Shookner on The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada

The Manual For Draft-Age Immiagrants to Canada

Malcolm Shookner used the original Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada to emigrate to Canada with his family in 1970s. He emailed us a few weeks ago when the A List edition was released inquiring about buying a copy, noting that it’s an “indispensable resource.” We sent him a copy — and also asked him a few questions about his experience using The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada when emigrating.

How did you get a hold of The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada?

I heard about it through the grapevine in the anti-war movement. Got the contact for the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (TADP) in Toronto and sent for a copy.

What did you learn about Canada from the book that you previously didn’t know?

Like most Americans, I didn’t know much about Canada. So I learned all about its politics, culture, geography, weather, and most important, the immigration system.

What information from the book did you find most useful in regards to making the move to Canada?

The information about immigration and the point system were most valuable. It enabled us to feel confident that we would have enough points to be accepted as landed immigrants. It also helped us with what documentation to have on hand when we arrived at the border, some more practical than official. For example, they recommended we have a complete inventory of everything we had packed in the moving truck. This would reduce the chance that they would tell us to unload it for inspection at the border.

What was your experience like immigrating to Canada?

We left Mt. Vernon, NY by car and rental truck with all our earthly possessions. I was traveling with my wife and 2 year old daughter. We drove north to the Canadian border at Prescott, Ontario. From past experience of others, we felt that we may be pursued by the FBI, since my draft date had come and gone. So there was a certain amount of paranoia, along with the stress of moving my family to a new country.

We were greeted by the Canadian border guards and we said we wanted to apply for landed immigrant status. (We knew the terminology and the drill from the manual.) My wife and I were interviewed separately. We knew they couldn’t ask me about my draft status (also from the manual) at the direction of the Prime Minister, who was welcoming American draft resisters with open arms. That made a big difference for us. We felt welcomed! When the interviews had concluded and they tallied up our scores, we had enough points to pass (which we also knew from the manual). They tore a thin strip of paper off the bottom of the application form and gave it to us as proof of our newly acquired landed immigrant status. At that moment, I felt a great weight lifted from my shoulders and knew what it meant to really feel free!

From there, we drove west on the 401 to our destination, Toronto. We had contact information from TADP about a community hall on Huron Street that would help us to settle in, find a place to live, look for a job. We were warmly greeted on our arrival by American expatriates and supportive Canadians. We were offered food and a place to stay while we found our own place. This was our introduction to the counter-culture in Toronto.

Three weeks later, we had found a flat in west-end Toronto and I had found a job. I had no help or encouragement in my job hunt from Canada Manpower (as it was called then). So I went around the city to various social agencies and presented my resume. I got a call from Jewish Family and Child Services to come in for an interview. I was hired practically on the spot. I found out later that the Executive Director of the agency, Jerome Diamond, was a big supporter of the anti-war movement and the American expatriates that were flooding into Toronto at the time. When he saw my resume, he told his staff to call me in. I started work the next week. It made for a happy holiday season – Christmas and Hannukah!

We felt that we may be pursued by the FBI, since my draft date had come and gone.

What were the first few months like for you after immigrating to Toronto?

We moved to Toronto in November 1970, during the October crisis with the FLQ in Quebec. Due to the War Measures Act, the Prime Minister had ordered troops into the streets in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. That was a weird flashback to the country we had just left. Some Americans were picked up off the streets in Toronto by the RCMP and held for 48 hours for questioning. This was seen by many of us as an excuse for the RCMP to harass the counter-culture in downtown Toronto, many of whom were Americans. Fortunately, I was not picked up in the dragnet.

This was the year with no Thanksgiving for us. We had left the US in early November, before the annual feast, and arrived in Toronto after the Canadian Thanksgiving in October. (I guess we missed this point in the manual.) We only discovered this when we went to buy a turkey to celebrate our successful immigration to Canada. Couldn’t find a turkey anywhere! When we asked about this, we learned that Thanksgiving was long gone. So we had to settle for a chicken! Turkey or no turkey, we had a lot to be thankful for.

By Christmas of 1970, we had settled into our new home, I had a job and we had a future. We had the support of neighbours, new friends, and colleagues at my agency for helping us to adjust to life in Canada. So the next few months went well for us.

What was your biggest challenge to adapting to life in Canada?

We came here with the understanding that we could never go home again. We had left our families, friends, and lives behind. That was the hardest thing. It was especially hard on our parents and my brothers. None of them could understand why we were making this drastic change. They were all loyal supporters of America and the war in Vietnam. My brothers both had military service. So there was anger and disappointment expressed in our exchange of letters over time. We had only occasional contact with our parents, which was hard on all of us.

When President Ford announced his “pardon” of draft resisters, I did not accept it because I felt I had done nothing wrong to be pardoned for. By then, the truth about the Vietnam war had come out in the Pentagon Papers and it turns out our resistance was justified.

Not long after that, I received mail from my draft board (redirected to me by friends in New York), that said I was being re-classified to a new category called 1-H. Upon inquiring with TADP, I learned that this was meant to be a “Holding” category for the thousands of draft resisters that they could not possibly track down and prosecute. TADP confirmed that it would be safe to cross the border now. It was an administrative amnesty. This meant the end of our separation from family and friends! It was much appreciated by all of us.

When President Ford announced his “pardon” of draft resisters, I did not accept it because I felt I had done nothing wrong to be pardoned for.

Do you think the Manual would be useful for people in the States in 2017?

I think it could be useful due to its comprehensive approach to the realities of moving to and living in Canada. The big difference is that the audience for the original manual was mostly white, middle-class Americans. Today’s potential audience would be from many other countries and cultures and their supporters in Canada. It would have to be culturally relevant to these potential immigrants.
That’s a big challenge!

Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to CanadaFirst published in 1968 by House of Anansi Press, the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada was a handbook for Americans who refused to serve as draftees in the Vietnam War and were considering immigrating to Canada. Conceived as a practical guide with information on the process, the Manual also features information on aspects of Canadian society, touching on topics like history, politics, culture, geography and climate, jobs, housing, and universities.

The Manual went through several editions from 1968–71. Today, as Americans are taking up the discussion of immigration to Canada once again, it is an invaluable record of a moment in our recent history.

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