• Name Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada
  • Writer Mark Satin
  • Genre Non-Fiction
  • Publisher House of Anansi
  • Pages 136
  • Cost $14.95

Back in 1971, when I was a partner in New Press, a Toronto publishing house in a ramshackle Victorian at the Annex, I detected a series of long-haired, dishevelled young guys walk in and mount the stairs into our toilet. At the free-spirited ethos of these days, our front door was always open. I asked who the men were and a colleague said they were American draft dodgers squatting in a garage across the street. They had asked permission first, she assured me.

Just another day during the Vietnam War.

By then, over 30,000 dodgers and deserters had taken refuge in Canada, thousands of them in Toronto. They had started arriving in 1965 and many were already settling to peaceful and productive lives throughout the nation. We whose authorities had kept us from the deadly debacle in Vietnam sympathized with the U.S. refugees. It took a desperate guts to cut oneself off from family, friends and homeland, immigrating to a country that looked deceptively comfortable yet was strangely different. They could not go home again without being jailed or forced to get involved in a war they did not believe in.

Lots of the exiles — over a third by one scholar’s quote — made their life-altering choice after studying an innocent-looking paperback from a different little Toronto press, the House of Anansi. Its drab cover adorned only with a red maple leaf, the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada delivered comprehensive information about becoming a Canadian and educated guidance about the country and its opportunities. The small brown book not only strengthened the anti-war motion, but it became a publishing phenomenon.

Published in January, 1968, the Manual was upgraded through six unique editions. By war’s end it had sold, to the astonishment of its publishers, some 65,000 copies on both sides of the border. Another 30,000 or components thereof were duplicated in bootleg editions by American anti-war groups. On some campuses the Guide needed to go underground; U.S. Customs often confiscated shipments destined for school campuses. In the FBI’s instigation, the RCMP looked into Anansi, but found nothing illegal, because it was perfectly legal for Canada to allow draft evaders to immigrate.

Now, Anansi is no more a little press. Having attained the ripe old age of 50, something of a triumph in Canadian publishing, it is reissuing the Manual one of its “A List” of classic titles marking the anniversary. The new cover design is more elegant — a peace dove taking flight with that red maple leaf clutched in its beak. An introduction by James Laxer concentrates on the Manual‘s significance in the Trump age, which will be driving new waves of refugees throughout our border, largely from third countries, as we have seen in recent weeks.

However, it’s from the new afterword by Mark Satin, the Manual‘s founder, where we could taste the grit, guts and adrenalin fuelling the sixties anti-war movement. Satin arrived in Toronto in 1967 as, in his words, “a little, woefully undereducated Amerikan [sic] child with unkempt hair and torn clothes.” At 20, he was an activist with credentials as a civil-rights volunteer in Mississippi. Intent on helping his fellow Americans escape to Canada, he co-founded the Toronto Anti-Draft Program (TADP) and became its first director.

Ambitious and media-savvy, Satin was a self-described “natural-born American social entrepreneur” impatient to perform more than counsel draft evaders, essential as that job was. In TADP board meetings he “vociferously argued that a mass movement of young Americans to Canada would help end the war” and a practical handbook, widely publicized and distributed, would draw them here. Satin’s brash conviction alienated some of his Canadian board members, elderly veterans of the peace movement that mistrusted “rabble-rousing” and publicity. They feared the Manual would just upset the Americans, who would shut the border.

Satin pushed forward regardless, composing parts of this Manual himself, soliciting encouraging posts from dominating Canadians such as historians J.M.S. Careless, Kenneth McNaught and a young Jim Laxer. However, Satin wanted something more to realize his dream a publisher. He turned into a friendly regular visitor to his office, the author and Canadian civic Dave Godfrey, who had lately co-founded Anansi with poet Dennis Lee.

“One September night,” Satin has written on the Anansi site, “I walked Dave from the office and up Spadina [Avenue] toward his location, plucked up my courage and asked if he’d like to publish the book.” Satin outlined his strategy: a 5,000-copy first printing and an ultimate aim of selling 50,000, “because we had to create Canadian immigration a feasible solution for most young Americans.” Initially, Godfrey stared at him as if he had been mad. However, given to daring schemes himself, Godfrey also recognized a kindred soul. If TADP paid for the printing, Anansi would promote and distribute the Manual, dividing the profits 50-50.

Little understanding that Godfrey was a publishing rookie with just four names in print, two of them his and Dennis Lee’s, Satin was overjoyed. And in the long run, he had been proved right — even though he had been long gone from the TADP by then, and Godfrey was gone out of Anansi, having left to co-found New Press with Jim Bacque and me.

So why read the Manual now? To put it simply, for its persuasive documentary value as an artifact of a dangerous period, a time when, as one contributor put it, Canadian identity was “up for grabs.” How we responded to America’s war in Vietnam and to its victims, gave flesh and bone into that identity. The nation made itself a welcoming place for American refugees during the war and Vietnamese refugees subsequently, of whom an even larger number settled {}.

At exactly the exact same time, Canadian corporations profited from selling war materials to the American army and Canadian appointees to the United Nations commission on Vietnam often served U.S. interests. But in Canadian public opinion, a line was drawn between unjustified and justified wars, preparing the ground for the Chrétien government’s refusal to join President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, while agreeing to donate to the UN-authorized effort in Afghanistan.

Our present government, using its open-handed policy toward Syrian refugees in stark contrast to Trump-style fear and loathing of the Other, has revived the custom of welcoming war victims. That convention will be seriously tested as migrants fleeing the United States continue to pour over the border, circumventing the immigration process — something most Vietnam war resisters didn’t do. Meanwhile the Manual reminds us exactly what we stand for at our very best.

Postscript: After President Jimmy Carter pardoned draft exiles in 1977, Mark Satin returned to his homeland. Now 70 and living in California, He’s the author of New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society and other publications.

Roy MacSkimming’s books include The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers and the historic books Macdonald and Laurier in Love.

Also on the Planet and Mail

Secret Course artist revisits Native issues in Roughneck (The Canadian Press)

Review: Mark Satin’s Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada is just as timely as ever

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *