Responsa II: The Sympathizer


After I sent out my Responsa to my review of Nguyen’s book, I received another comment on the original review. The individual had read the book and believed that, instead of the extensive examination on Nguyen’s rhetorical comments on American culture, I should have attended to the two scenes that bracket the book, the American desertion of Vietnam at the beginning of the novel and the Communist interrogation of our hero at the end to reveal something about actual behaviour of both the US and Vietnam rather than just one character’s personal depictions of a culture. Branding America as imperialist is insufficient since that is not what the novel describes. What is depicted is America’s abandonment not its involvement in and conduct of the war. Further, the Vietnamese at the end seems far more ruthless than America ever behaved in Vietnam, so to see the worst traits of Vietnamese simply as imitations of or influences by American culture seems misplaced.

The comment is relevant; focusing on the brackets seems a good idea. Since it ties in with the war that I so unalterably opposed when I grew into my political maturity, it was even closer to me heart and mind even than the issue of refugees. But I cannot begin with America’s war in Vietnam and the abandonment of the country. This blog will zero in on the formation of my view of America even before I became an anti-Vietnam War activist in the sixties.

Let me tell you my starting point that is really my end point. Three of my six children are now American citizens. Some of my grandchildren raised in the United States do not think of themselves as dual citizens; they are Americans period. Further, I love the US – its geography, its energy, its vitality, its creativity, its p. I love the warmth, the friendliness and the generosity of Americans. But I do not love American militarism and American imperialism that Nguyen skewers so strongly in his book.

That perspective goes deep. I was indoctrinated to be anti-American in high school. Not because the US hung Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, though I unfairly judged that to be a witch trial at the time. My education of American history was slim, but I did learn about the War of 1812. The bottom line was simple. The US saw its manifest destiny as including Canada. It was the first war the Americans lost. It was the second war after the War of Independence in which America won the peace.

Britain was involved in the imperative of finishing off Napoleon, a victory that would set the foundation for the largest empire ever known. (I do not know if it really was.) So even though the Canadians with their Six Nations allies beat the Americans, in the 1814 peace deal, America set the precedent as Britain surrendered the forts it held running from Detroit to the Mississippi in return for securing the US as a trading partner. The precedent was also set for a division between British North America and the US along the 49th parallel. At the same time, Britain had sold out its First Nations allies that had been so crucial to the American defeat. At least this was the version of the War of 1812 that I was taught and that I retained. Americans were land hungry. Americans were ruthless Yankee bargainers.

Of course, this was not the “truth.” I would learn of a much more nuanced narrative when I began reading |Canadian history on my own, but it was usually at the further expense of British honour rather than Canadian glory. The general impression of Americans remained. Whatever the causes, whatever the history of the British blockade in response to Napoleon’s (the Berlin Decree) and the effort to recapture British sailors who had deserted and enlisted in the American navy, whatever the record of Britain even impressing American sailors and forcing them to serve the British navy, however the boarding of the Chesapeake by the Brits to recapture deserters that roused the nationalism and anti-British feelings across the US,  the war with Canada was initiated by President James Madison and his cohort of war hawks in Congress to seize Upper Canada and guarantee the expansion of America to the Pacific. This was undertaken even though a very large number of Americans opposed the war.

We used to ride our bikes to Fort York at the foot of Bathurst Street when we were kids. We learned that the Americans had sacked Fort York, not once but twice. However, the American invading forces had been defeated in between at Fort Detroit and again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Unfortunately, a Canadian hero, the Governor of Upper Canada, Major-General Sir Isaac |Brock, died. Americans were once again defeated at Beaver Dams, largely because of First Nations forces and because of a Canadian heroine Laura Secord, who alerted the British army, the Canadian militias and the main striking force of First Nations.

In these battles, two American armies were lost. The effort to capture Montreal also failed.

However, given the feckless support of Britain, Tecumseh’s Confederacy was defeated and one of the greatest warriors killed. Further, to the consternation of the Brits so proud of their naval power, the British navy was defeated on Lake Erie, though the story on the Atlantic was much different. Washington was burned. Maine was controlled by the British and New York was under threat, but a hapless British general lost that opportunity.

The war left a residue that set the stage for America’s rise in the nineteenth century. Britain had betrayed its First Nation allies and the defeat of the Tecumseh confederacy opened the west, at least in the northern US, to American expansion. The Treaty of Ghent restored the territories gained by the British to the Americans. Perhaps more significantly, the aftermath of the war in the Battle of Louisiana with the British secured the reputation of Andrew Jackson who would feed off populism to become president and ethnically cleanse the Eastern and Central United States of its native population.

I am now in Mexico. My eldest son, a Latin American historian at Princeton, several years ago gave me a volume by Enrique Krauze, Mexico – Biography of Power: A History of Modern Mexico 1810-1996. What I know of Mexican history I absorbed from this volume.

Mexico and Canada are currently bargaining with the U.S. over NAFTA. It is not the first time. Mexico became independent in 1821, Canada not until 1867. Britain continued to negotiate with the US through the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1845, though Britain legally shared the territory north of the Columbia River, known as the Oregon territory, with the US, Britain, with its First Nation allies, exercised de facto control. At the same time, Mexico included what is now California, Nevada Utah, Arizona New Mexico, and part of Colorado. Mexico was fighting a war in Texas with American expansionists; the American Congress had passed legislation to annex Texas in 1845. American westward expansion had been stymied behind the Arkansas River that cut through the south-west of Kansas and the southern border of Oklahoma.

President James Knox Polk was the warrior president of the United States who, through lies and manipulation, initiated the war with Mexico. But his success depended in good part on whether he could bluff and defeat Britain in peace talks. Through skillful negotiations and deceit (I am not sure whether he was as mendacious as Donald Trump, but the two belong in the same camp), he managed to separate Great Britain from Mexico. In return for peace with the US, Britain ceded the territory that is now Oregon and Washington State and abandoned Mexico to its own fate. The 49th parallel became the major dividing line between Canada and the US. The 54:40 American hawks, who dreamed of expanding the US up to the border with Russia in Alaska, thought Polk had betrayed them.

Polk had greater ambitions. With Britain out of the way, facing a dispirited, economically weak and divided Mexico with a political system that mixed “monarchical” leadership with populism, with a relatively smaller population, most of whom were Amero-Indian and resentful of |Mexico City, Polk seized the opportunity open for American expansion in the south-west. He knew that American power, backed up by its initial industrial might, its far superior armaments and its much better communications and transportation systems, could defeat a politically divided Mexico. Even its allied ruling elite were divided. General Santa Anna was a despot. Lucas Alamán, his political partner, was not. He wanted a republican state governed by the rule of law. His proposal, to cede Texas that had declared independence in 1836 to prevent a larger war that he foresaw Mexico was bound to lose, was rejected.

The Americans invaded Texas in 1947. The excoriations thrown at him by John Quincy Adams had no effect. Neither did the denunciations of the young Abe Lincoln or his demand that Polk provide evidence that Mexico had invaded the US. Mexico was blockaded at sea. Though the people of Mexico were united and rallied against the American invaders, they were no military match, though the Mexicans put up a far more spirited defence that Polk had expected. Though their sacrifices had been enormous, they eventually lost. The American flag in September of 1847 flew over the National Palace. Nine days after the peace treaty was signed in 1848, Americans struck gold in California.

Victory arrived, but not without the Mexicans resorting to guerilla warfare. The US responded, as imperialists do, with war crimes, with beating civilians wans hanging alleged insurrectionist leaders in public squares. The precedent of atrocities was multiplied in the destruction of the Comanche Empire that followed. Americans set a precedent for genocide in the nineteenth century. This does not mean that all Americans misbehaved. A number were generous to the civilians, for America is by and large constituted by a generous people. After the war, Mexicans in the territories ceded to the US were offered citizenship and freedom of worship in spite of the pervasive racism of America, particularly coming from its militaristic side. Blacks were not the only victims. First Nations were treated even worse.

America is a divided nation. It always has been from the time it expelled the United Empire Loyalists. Those who threatened the empire were evicted or forced to submit or both. The US ended the nineteenth century with the ten-week Spanish-American War, the long occupation of Cuba, the acquisition of Puerto Rico and Guam and the reduction of the Philippines to a satrap.


Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus Part IV: 1981 – 1989

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus

Part IV: 1981 – 1989


Howard Adelman

Nong Samet Camp in Thailand became home to about 700 Vietnamese refugees who had crossed Cambodia from Vietnam into Thailand on 18 December 1981. Refugees fleeing Vietnam were no longer exclusively Boat People. By September 1982, the numbers had grown to 1,804 who had crossed by land from Vietnam. Initially, Thailand prevented Western Countries from interviewing these refugees lest, in the minds of Thai authorities, Thailand be turned into a magnet for refugees traveling on this new route. International pressure, a commitment by Western states to resettle the Vietnamese refugees and intervention by the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross), led to a reversal of this policy. ICM, the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration, interviewed the refugees as the intermediary for the 15 Western countries offering asylum. By 28 January 1983, 1,713 of the refugees had been offered resettlement, 60% going to the U.S. On 9 February 1983, the processing centre was closed providing a definitive mark for the onset of the final stage in dealing with the Indochinese refugees.

The remaining refugees, by then increased to 122, were transferred to the Khao I Dang near Ban Nong Samet. Given this narrative, one might gain the impression that the refugee crisis was diminishing. The net numbers left were decreasing, but refugees kept flowing into camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and even Indonesia. However, donor fatigue was on the horizon and the kickback against resettlement had begun. Initially it was directed only at Laotian and Cambodian refugees traveling by land with relatively the lowest barriers to flight.

Just before a book appeared by Larry Clinton Thompson entitled Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982 documenting the role of American mavericks and malcontents from the State Department, military, USAID, CIA, and the Peace Corps who used their commitment and expertise to undertake the actual work on the ground in resettling the refugees, the same work that only 16 formal employees from the Department of Immigration in Canada were doing, a four-member panel headed by Marshall Green, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, reported in August 1981 directly to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig and poured cold water on Laotian and Cambodian migrants. The report claimed that those currently crossing from Cambodia and Laos into Thailand were almost all economic migrants. Though flows were predicted to continue from Laos and Cambodia and even increase, the panel recommended a policy shift and that, henceforth, Cambodian and Laotian migrants no longer be treated as refugees but as economic migrants.

Initially, only the Vietnamese Boat People were to be exempted from this policy shift. My colleague and later writing partner, the Norwegian scholar Astri Suhrke, published an essay, “Indochinese Refugees: The Law and Politics of First Asylum” in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (vol. 467) in a special issue focused on The Global Refugee Problem: U. S. and World Response (May, 1983, pp. 102-115). When the flow of Indochinese refugees seemed to have become self-perpetuating, she noted that receiving countries were now positioning themselves to both resist taking more refugees and reduce the flow. It would take another six years to complete this task, and it would be applied to Vietnamese as well as Khmer and Laotians in flight. The Orderly Departure Program (ODP) had been initiated the year before in an agreement with the government of Vietnam as the first phase of the shift in policy applied to Vietnam.

Essentially, as Astri pointed out, the mode of exodus rather than the reasons for flight had become the criterion for determining refugee status. The backlash against a system that made the perils of flight, perils played up in media reports, the grounds for determining refugee status, had begun. By negotiating changes in the push factors, by allowing sponsored relatives to emigrate directly from Vietnam, by classifying Laotians and Cambodians now as economic migrants, and, most of all, by closing down selection and processing facilities in countries like Thailand, a process discouraging a further exodus had begun to be put in place.

One of the effects of this new policy was that countries of first asylum, fearing they would be left with residuals, now pushed back as well by preventing Cambodians and Laotians from crossing the border and sending them back when they did, justifying such measures by the decision of the United States, seemingly supported by other Western governments, to classify these people now as irregular migrants rather than refugees. These steps further inhibited the new flows and began to slow down the exodus significantly.

Thus, the predictions of the American State Department special panel mentioned above that the United States must be prepared for continuing and possibly increased flows of refugees from Indochina, particularly Vietnam, turned out to be not so much a prediction as a rationalization and motivation for a policy shift which, when implemented, prevented the prediction from being realized. In foreseeing ”a long-term continuation of the exodus of boat people from Vietnam” and ”the potential for increased land refugee flows from Laos and Cambodia, in view of worsening conditions of life and the threat of widening hostilities,” in effect, these worsening conditions became the rationale for beginning to close the door to Indochinese refugees. The Panel confirmed that the widespread belief that the new refugees were different than those who fled between 1975 and 1980 was accurate. As Senator Walter D. Huddleston (D. Kentucky) charged, ”the great majority of those claiming to be political refugees are, in reality, economic refugees.” He went further and accused State Department employees of actually recruiting refugees to fill quotas set by Congress.

The motivation for these shifts, in addition to the perception that these new flows consisted of economic migrants rather than refugees, included a fear that these new migrants would be more difficult to settle because they lacked any ties with Americans dating back to the war in Indochina and also had no family connections in the U.S., hence the exemption for Vietnam and the introduction of the Orderly Departure Program. There had also been a backlash in North America as the recession of the early eighties enhanced the voices of those who complained that the so-called refugees were putting an additional drag on the welfare system when dollars were in desperate short supply to take care of the increasing numbers thrown out of work and that had been added to the welfare rolls. Further, there was the sense that the United States had fulfilled its obligations connected with the Vietnam War and its citizens felt that it was being left with a disproportionate share of the problem. The complainants about burden sharing cited the fact that the U.S. had resettled about 50% of the Indochinese exodus, eventually 504,000 of the final total of about 1,060,000.

At the time the Panel report was published, Lao, Hmong and Khmer flows of migrants had begun to decline significantly, but Vietnamese refugees continued their exodus at a rate of 8,400 per month. As predicted, as the economic situation became worse in Vietnam, the monthly exodus stopped declining and began to get worse again in 1987. For seven years, resettlement opportunities had more than offset the new flows into the camps. In 1987 this was no longer the case as numbers in camps in Hong Kong and Thailand once again began to increase.  When 18,000 Boat People arrived in Hong Kong by mid-year of 1988, the Hong Kong authorities decided on 15 June that henceforth Indochinese refugees would be placed in closed camps – actually the skeletal structures of high rise buildings – and would no longer be allowed to leave the camps for irregular labour on the job market. Further, the educational and other programs previously offered to the refugees were halted.

An international refugee conference was held in Geneva in 1989 to deal with the new version of the Indochinese exodus that was no longer characterized as a refugee crisis. Henceforth, each so-called refugee was to be subjected to an individual screening to determine whether he or she qualified as a Convention Refugee. The migrants were no longer to be treated as humanitarian refugees. They would have to satisfy the much stricter definition and prove that they had a well-founded fear of persecution because they were members of a group targeted by the government and subjected to human rights abuses. The new Comprehensive Plan of Action entailed a program of “:forcibly” returning refugees to their home country while calling the return voluntary.

In 1989, 70,000 Indochinese had fled their countries of origin, many after the cut-off date of 14 March 1989 when the repatriation program became applicable. By 1992, that number had dropped precipitously to 41. The Indochinese refugee crisis had ended in a whimper, but the program of resettlement continued using the Orderly Departure Program for relatives of those who had been resettled, for mixed-race children whose fathers had been American soldiers and for former inmates of re-education camps. In the post-1989 era, Vietnam promised not to send any of the returned migrants to re-education camps.  Westerners, particularly those deeply suspicious of the government of Vietnam, traveled to that country to observe whether Vietnam was keeping its commitments. They confirmed that Vietnam was indeed being true to its word. When such confirmations were received, the conscience of returning those who still chose to leave, now deemed to be illegal economic migrants, was totally eased.

Between 1975 and 1997, 750,000 Indochinese refugees had been resettled abroad, over half in the U.S., in addition to those who had been resettled in China. Canada took approximately 100,000, a disproportionate share. A further 900,000 had been resettled under the Orderly Departure Program, many of those in Canada. Over 100,000 had been repatriated. As part of a commitment by Norway, Canada and the U.S. to deal with 200 remainders, the arrival in 2015 of a small coterie of 17 Vietnamese refugees in Canada who had been in camps for 18-25 years marked the definitive end of the program.

The story of the Indochinese refugee crisis was, on the one hand, a narrative of desperate people fleeing a mixture of economic desperation, prejudice and persecution. That story continues with the flight of the Rohingya from Myammar, where they are targeted for persecution, and from Bangladesh, where the Rohingya have lost hope given their relegation to the bottom of the economic ladder. The picture of packed and unseaworthy boats, of boats being pushed back out to sea, of boats abandoned by the people smugglers once they have collected their money, fill the newspapers these days. No, that is not accurate. There are stories, but they no longer fill the newspapers. Otherwise, the situation bears very little difference with the Boat People crisis of the late seventies. Except what we hear as a response is the sound of silence.

There is another major difference. Operation Lifeline in Canada was constructed on a model of networking pioneered by the sixties generation in their protests for peace and racial and social justice. That networking, once on the margins of society, has now become a central motif of economic organization as some of the newest and largest economic enterprises specialize only in networking. Whether the company is a new form of providing a taxi service like Uber without any taxis, or social connections like Facebook without any milieus, or connecting consumers with producers or home and hotel owners with travelers, in a new system in which connectivity, rather than productivity and manufacturing, has become the core economic mechanism for the new age, we have still not figured out how to institutionalize and transfer the lesson learned from the connectivity between citizens in one world with humans without a state in another world that was pioneered in the late seventies. In this age of connectivity at the core of the economy, the system should be applicable to the crises of the present. We can accomplish the feat with consumer goods and services in a post-modern world but we are still unable to do so in linking the pre-modern and post-modern worlds.

E. M. Forster in A Passage to India, included one very memorable imperative, “Only connect.” We must learn how to establish and institutionalize connections, not only between providers and users in a new post-modern economy, but between post-modern and pre-modern societies. Perhaps if the state stood aside, new networks for resettlement of refugees could be established. While the state retained its determination to preserve a monopoly on coercive power, it could surrender its monopoly on the controls of entry and egress to a state by sharing that responsibility with its citizens. Real networking connections could be established between citizens of the World of Order and stateless people, and members of the World of Disorder. Perhaps if the selection of new citizens were allowed to be assumed by small groups of existing citizens linking up with those needing and asking and risking to come, subject only to a veto by state authorities, then the modern era of networking could be applied to humanitarianism for a new age.

As Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times, we need to be able to connect people from the new World of Disorder and those who are privileged and belong to the World of Order. For the New World Order is not a unity but a deeply divided global polity split between Order and Disorder, between good, responsive and responsible governance and bad, unresponsive and irresponsible governments. Only if some form of networking is established will we be able to deal with the current total of 50 million displaced in the world.

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus: Part III of IV: 1979-1980

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus

Part III of IV: 1979-1980


Howard Adelman

In September 1979, China claimed that more than 230,000 Chinese ethnic refugees from Vietnam had been driven across the border, though some also arrived by sea. However, in the West, the exodus all took place by sea and “Boat People” became the prevailing designation for all the Indochinese refugees, though Cambodian and Laotian refugees had crossed into Thailand by land. The name was reinforced by the predominant imagery of rickety overstuffed boats of desperate people with many of the boats capsizing, running out of fuel and water, attacked by pirates and being shoved back out to sea by Malaysian authorities. If it was not enough to suffer oppression and expulsion, the refugees also soon encountered rejection by others. Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 immediately came to mind. The identification of the Indochinese with the Jews fostered guilt among Western countries that had failed to come to the rescue of those Jews who managed to flee by boat in 1938, forty years before.

Though most passing ships under the International Law of the Sea rescued the human cargo lest they drown, many ships passed without offering aid. Many of those that rescued refugees, tried to offload their passengers at nearby countries which then prevented the ships from landing.

Hence the crisis! Pushed out from their countries of origin, rejected by countries of first asylum, a more systematic policy was needed if the adjacent countries were to allow the refugees to land. (Hong Kong was the exception and never pushed back the “Boat People”.) Barry Wain in his article, “The Indochina Refugee Crisis” in the Fall 1979 issue of Foreign Affairs summarized the causes very succinctly.

Indochina is bleeding. Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea discharge a massive flow of apparently permanent refugees, on a scale the world has not experienced since World War II. No end is in sight to the flow nor is any political solution visible. There is more to the outflow than the aftermath of war-prolonged, bitter and bloody as the 1960-75 conflict was. Of the more than one million persons who have fled or been forced out of Indochina since communist governments took over in 1975, by far the greatest number have left in the last 18 months. Behind the upheaval is Hanoi’s determination not only to bring Kampuchea into line and free Laos of dissidents, but to rid its own territory of unwanted elements and carry out the socialist transformation of unified Vietnam without delay. Anti-Chinese feeling is a major factor; Hanoi’s approach includes forcing out of Vietnam hundreds of thousands of people considered undesirable in the new society, many of them ethnic Chinese, and in the process exploiting their financial resources to its own benefit. If the policies behind this exodus should be resumed – after the short breathing space apparently gained by the July 1979 Geneva conference – another million or more inhabitants of Vietnam might seek refuge abroad. Already the refugees have saddled neighbouring non-communist nations with serious political, economic, social and security problems. Their presence is potentially explosive in several countries, notably Malaysia and Indonesia, which have Chinese minorities and delicate racial balances. Altogether, the stability of Southeast Asia is threatened. But the implications go much further: for the Soviet Union, Vietnam’s main supporter, which shows no inclination to curb Hanoi’s present course; for China, whose hostility to Vietnam may have helped swell the refugee tide it now piously condemns; and for the United States, the only country capable of taking the lead in fashioning a solution and whose handling of the situation will determine its standing in the region in the immediate future.

There is, however, a complementary thesis, one which puts part of the blame on the sixties protesters against the war in Vietnam. The Vietnamese political scientist, Ton That Thien, blamed Western and Vietnamese intellectuals for their mindblindness and refusal to recognize that the Viet Cong, South Vietnam’s National Liberation Front, was not the expression of an indigenous nationalism confronting corruption in government in Saigon, but a puppet of Hanoi. Further, Hanoi and its ideology were determined to wreck havoc with the traditional Vietnamese culture. The chickens were now coming home to roost and those chickens were the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees who had to be settled in the West if the West was to avoid a wider geo-political crisis in the region. The West had made the basic error, not in fighting the war, but through false analysis and failing to win it, thereby setting off the exodus. The interpretive conflict is much more about evaluation rather than about factual disagreements.

In May 1979, the first longer-term refugee camp for Cambodian refugees was set up in Thailand. Different camps were dominated by various Cambodian warlords and the Khmer Rouge now in exile. The Nong Samet, Mak Mun and Nong Chan refugee camps were just inside the Thai border and within a few miles of one another. It is always difficult to obtain accurate figures of refugees in camps because some refugees leave to seek local work and return, particularly on census days. When camps are controlled by the military, accurate figures are almost impossible to obtain since the military use a plethora of measures to enhance the numbers. They do so in order for more rations to come into the camp that can be re-sold in local markets and, thereby, finance the support of the military and their plan to re-conquer, in this case, Cambodia. That is why the military control the census as well as the food distribution within the camps. The military also use the base for rest and recreation after they return from a raid back into Cambodia. Refugee camp inhabitants are also a source of recruits for the counter-revolutionary forces.

This meant that refugee camps posed a security danger to Thailand because of reprisal raids by the Vietnamese-dominated government in Cambodia and the close proximity of the camps  to the border. The existence of camps controlled by the military also enhanced the security problem because the camps were a source of funds for the militants. On the 5th of October, the military warlords established the Angkor National Liberation Movement, Khmer Angkor for short, and, as an example, informed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that the population of the largest camp, Nong Sanet, totalled 200,000.

The international community suspected exaggeration and cut the figure by 10% and only provided aid for 180,000. But a 10% hype was the normal enhancement of UNHCR-run camps in contrast to military-run camps as those who came and went in UNHCR- controlled camps returned for census days once a year. From our studies in Goma in the Congo, the exaggeration in numbers was probably enhanced by at least 25% not 10% when the military control a camp and do not permit a proper census. There were probably no more than 150,000 in the camps controlled by military forces. Smuggling and black markets flourished as other sources of funds for the military in addition to stealing humanitarian rations.

Further, as most camps were near the border, there were many landmines. Another source of insecurity was not between the camps and the new Vietnamese puppet regime in Cambodia, but within each camp and among the camps themselves as different warlords tried to consolidate or expand the areas under their control. The situation was similar to rivalries between biker gangs who fight to control the drug trade. As recently took place in Texas, that rivalry frequently became violent. The most dangerous source of violence remained the Khmer Rouge, ironically still backed as the official government of Cambodia by both the U.S. and China. For example, on 4 January 1980, from its base in Phnom Chat, the Khmer Rouge attacked In-Sakhan’s controlled camp, Nong Samet, and overran it. But the refugees had fled and an empty camp was of no use to the Khmer Rouge. Under pressure, the latter retreated and the refugees returned, once more under the control of ex-Royalist military officers. An effort in January 1980 by UNICEF and ICRC to bypass the military and distribute rations to the camp’s population, now estimated at 60,000 was a failure. As a consequence, a month later the UNHCR cut off aid, but subsequent follow-up inspections revealed a high rate of malnutrition. So aid was resumed without an accurate census, an impossible effort in itself given the volatility of the situation, the fighting among the camps and the flight of camp populations from one camp to another.

The problem was only resolved when the Thai military became involved between March and July and took temporary control of the camps, in strict terms, a violation of international humanitarian norms. The Thai army redistributed the camp populations into more controllable numbers in each camp, and the remaining population of Nong Samet Camp was moved to a swampy area next to Prasaht Sdok Kok Thom Camp. The only long-term result was that the Khmer Rouge was able to take control and Thou Thon, a puppet of the Khmer Rouge, became chief administrator. However, although the camp remained a recruiting ground as well as a place for rest and recreation for insurgent forces, the camp soon became the model of a well-run and clean camp, but still with exaggerated census figures. Official corruption and theft of rations were tolerated because the Khmer Rouge kept order in the camp. The Khmer Rouge had become the de facto state with a monopoly of control of violence, thereby squelching the sources of interpersonal insecurity that was once an everyday part of camp life.

In contrast to the Cambodian situation where camp life and militant responses co-existed, the Laotian Civil War had ended.  Of the approximately 22,000 Laotians in Canada in the 2011 census, 12,793 arrived as refugees, almost all from camps in Thailand after 1978. Canada also took in a small number of Hmong; the majority of those Hmong re-migrated to the U.S., mostly to Washington and Oregon where the Hmong brought over by the Americans after 1975 had settled in fairly large numbers. There are a large group of ethnic Chinese from Laos in the Kitchener area primarily because of their sponsorship by the Mennonite community. 53% of the Indochinese refugees sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee were Laotian, whereas Laotians only made up 16% of the total Canadian intake. Laotians not converted to Catholicism when the French ruled Laos, and who did not convert to Protestantism in gratitude to their Christian sponsors, practice the Theravada branch of Buddhism. Their facilities are often exquisitely beautiful: the Wat Lao temple in Edmonton, Alberta and, the most beautiful of all, the Monastère Bouddhiste de Tam Bao Son in Harrington, Laurentides, Québec.

In sum, the largest resettlement effort for refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia took place between 1979 and the end of 1980, but the ground for the exodus belonged in the prior period except for the camps in Thailand. There, the situation on the ground, the political and military in-fighting among the ex-Cambodian leadership, and the intervention of the Thai military influenced both the humanitarian effort within Thailand and the process of resettlement.

Part IV tomorrow: 1981-1988

1975-1978 Refugees from Cambodia and Laos

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus

Part II of IV: 1975-1978 Refugees from Cambodia and Laos


Howard Adelman

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge had targeted minorities as well as intellectuals, professionals and middle class urban dwellers for extinction. Vietnam expelled its Chinese minority; the Khmer Rouge killed them. Although Pol Pot himself was of mixed Chinese and Khmer ancestry, the ethnic Chinese were targeted for extinction even though China was an ally and supporter of the Khmer Rouge in opposition to the Vietnamese government. Chinese businessmen, as in Vietnam, played a disproportionate role in the Cambodian economy as they did in the Vietnamese one, but all ethnic Chinese were branded as exploiters and moneylenders who took advantage of the Khmer people. In 1978, tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Cambodia were rounded up by the Khmer Rouge government ostensibly to be resettled, but were slaughtered instead. In addition to killing and expelling the Vietnamese and Chinese, Muslim Chan and other minorities that originally made up 15% of the Cambodian population were persecuted. In Kampong Cham Province alone, 40,000 Cham were killed. The Khmer Rouge government had guaranteed that Canada and Western countries were spared resettling two million Cambodian citizens by murdering the country’s own citizens.

But many escaped. In June of 1978, Bud Cullen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, announced a plan focused to take 20 Thailand Overland Refugee (TOR) families a month in June 1978 which  was an addition to the Jan. 1978 decision to take 50 Small Boat Escapee (SBE) families a month. That brought the regional commitment to 70 families a month. The 20 families were to start arriving in late 1978 after the opening of a visa office in Thailand in November 1978. This so called “metered approach”(so many families each month), small though it was, kept Canada in the game at a time when the traditional refugee advocates in Canada had no interest in the Indochinese.

The program was quickly superseded when the government decided to increase the commitment to 5,000 Indochinese in Dec. 1978 under the first Annual Refugee Plan. The Hai Hong (Nov 1978) and the Geneva consultation (Dec 1978) provided the impetus to move away from the token involvement that characterized the movement between late 1975 until October 1978. Though modest in retrospect, the commitment to 5,000 meant the beginning of substantial increase in the intake and a new commitment to the Indochinese refugees involving new government money to cover operational and settlement costs for the first time since 1975. Though Ron Atkey, Joe Clarke’s Minister of Immigration appointed in June 1979, claimed that Trudeau was reluctant to go beyond 5,000 with an election looming, the Cabinet debate and decision indicated otherwise; the Liberal government envisioned the 5,000 as a first step since it directed Cullen to report if he believed more effort was needed and to come back to Cabinet regardless in June. Ron Atkey, a Tory, thankfully, inherited and enhanced the Liberal commitment.

Overseas events influenced both the Liberal and Conservative Parties in their approach to the Indochinese refugees. On 25 December 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia with 150,000 troops, captured Phnom Penh and overthrew the Khmer Rouge government in just two weeks, replacing it with the Vietnamese puppet government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

In the new year, the Sino-Vietnamese War ensued. Cambodia was an ally of China. China, also seeing Russian expansionism via Vietnam as its proxy, invaded Vietnam. On 6 March, after six weeks, China withdrew, declaring that their punitive mission had been achieved and that they had tickled the buttocks of the “tiger” (the USSR) without any response by the Soviet Union in spite of a mutual defence treaty signed between Hanoi and Moscow a month before the invasion. Severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas were extracted. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics. Against this background of regional inter-state and domestic ethnic and economic conflicts, by June of 1979, over 200,000 refugees were waiting for resettlement in various camps in Southeast Asia and the numbers continued to grow.

In Laos, the unity government of royalists and Pathet Lao began to dissolve as the royalists saw the writing on the wall when Saigon fell and the Pathet Lao forces on the Plain of Jars began advancing westward even before Saigon fell. The royalists chose acquiescence to the inevitable and royalist politicians and royalist military officers began to desert the government and flee to Thailand, quickly followed by officials and members of the business class. A totally separate exodus took place among Hmong who had fought as CIA-backed units on the Royalist side in the Laotian civil war. With the victory of the Pathet Lao on 5 May 1975, the U.S. evacuated Hmong officers of Vang Pao from Long Tieng after the Prime Minister, Souvanna Phouma, ordered the Hmong to cooperate with the Pathet Lao. Four days after, the communists vowed to exterminate the Hmong.

3,500 leaders and their families were at serious risk of execution by the Pathet Lao. The airlift evacuation, using three American planes, but without markings and flown by civilian pilots, began on 13 May 1975 in multiple forays back and forth. However, the Americans were forced to leave many behind as the Pathet Lao closed in on 14 May ending the airlift. Then General Vang Pao led thousands of his fighters across the Mekong River into Thailand. By the end of 1975, 40,000 Hmong had reached Thailand. Eventually, as many as 200,000 Hmong went into exile there. The vast majority ended up in the US. Other Hmong fighters hid in mountains of Xianghouang Province for years, with a remnant emerging from the jungle only in 2003.

After the Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. By August, when the Pathet Lao arrived in Vientiane, they entered a virtually deserted city and initially kept in place the shell of the coalition government. By 2 December 1975, this façade ended and the king abdicated. By 1977, the regime promised to hunt down “American collaborators” and their families “to the last root”. The exodus from Laos consisted of three groups, Laotians associated with the Royalist regime, Hmong refugees and ethnic Chinese originating in Laos.

By the end of 1980, 7,500 refugees, whose last country of residence had been Laos, entered Canada. 7,100 from Cambodia also arrived. These were distinct from the 59,000 individuals who came from Vietnam. About 60% of the latter were ethnic Vietnamese, the remainder Chinese or Khmer Vietnamese.

The Indochinese refugees are referred to loosely as the “Boat People” because that was the most dramatic form of flight, though those who fled by sea constituted only 75,000 of the 500,000 refugees from Indochina. Further, traveling by sea was the most risky form of escape since the UNHCR at the time estimated that 40% who fled by sea did not survive. Of 112,500 who left in mostly unseaworthy craft, 45,000 were drowned or killed. In several weeks in November 1978 alone, 350 perished and the number fleeing by boat was increasing very rapidly in the last few months of 1978. For example, the number in flight in the spring of 1978 was estimated to be 1,500; by October, 10,000 were fleeing per month and the number was expected to rise to 20,000 per month by the spring of 1979.

From 1975 to 1978, 425,000 fled to the west and 75,000 went into China. In the Fall of 1978, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, National Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Interreligious Affairs in the U.S., traveled to Southeast Asia with two other non-Jewish clergy as part of the Citizens Commission on Indochinese Refugees aided by the International Rescue Committee. At the time, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in the United States had committed itself to take almost as many Indochinese refugees as the whole of Canada, with a target of 5% of the total admitted. In an American background memorandum entitled, “The Southeast Asian Refugees,” dated 7 December 1978, the Interreligious Citizens Commission estimated the breakdown of the 450-500,000 of Indochinese refugees from 1975 to 1978 to be:

132,000 Vietnamese after the collapse of Saigon to the U.S.

50,000 additional 1975-November 1978 to the U.S.

43,817 to France

13.347 to Australia

7,550 to Canada

665 to New Zealand

644 to Britain

225 to Italy

    204 to the Netherlands

248,452 TOTAL

Therefore, rounded up, there were 250,000 Indochinese refugees granted asylum in the U.S. and other Western states. There were still 40,000 Indochinese refugees in transit camps in Malaysia and 136,000 in transit camps in Thailand.

In April 1978, the U.S. government was committed to admitting 15,000 per month, that is, 180,000 per year, half boat people from Vietnamese and half Cambodians and Laotians. Canada was committed to taking in only 5,000; Canada’s normal percentage would have been 36,000. Further, on 29 November 1978, U.S. Attorney General Bell announced that, by the end of April 1979, he was planning to admit an additional 21,875 Indochinese refugees, about three-quarters of them Vietnamese “boat people,” and the rest Cambodians.

In the Fall of 1978, as referred to above, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that it would  convene a meeting in Geneva on December 11-12 of more than 30 countries to seek international action on the Southeast Asian refugee problem.

To be continued: 1979-1980

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus Part I of IV: 1975-1978 Refugees from Vietnam

Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus

Part I of IV: 1975-1978 Refugees from Vietnam


Howard Adelman

I completed an essay on the private sponsorship of refugees into Canada. Several who read it asked why the refugees were forced to flee. I had not dealt with that issue in my essay. I had either taken the issue for granted or simply thought that the resettlement story was separate from the story of the flight and the impossibility of settlement in countries of first asylum. In any case, although there was some overlap, they were two different issues. Further, I think I presumed that everyone knew the overseas part of the story. Of course, one of the interlocutors was too young to have known; the Indochinese refugee exodus narrative fell into that black hole of knowledge between the history that you are taught at school and when personal historical memory begins. Besides, as I discovered when I wrote the essay, even I had forgotten significant parts of the story, or, at least, stored that knowledge in a deep cavern in my mind.

Understanding the source of the flow of refugees is important in determining which policy to follow in addressing the issue. The ideology of the regime may be incompatible with the beliefs and practices of those who go into exile. Some flows are temporary and people are simply escaping from the terrors of war and will return home as soon as the fighting stops; in other cases, conflict seems interminable. In still other refugee movements, there is a sorting out of populations along ethnic and/or religious lines; in such cases, when there is an area of the country that remains hospitable to a particular ethnic or religious group, return serves as the primary solution rather than settlement in first countries of asylum or resettlement in more distant lands.

When return is not realistic, refugees try to flee to an adjacent or nearby country, perhaps one sharing the ethnicity of the group pushed into exile. When there is no such area within the country or in countries of first asylum which do not share the ethnicity or religion of the population in flight, especially when first asylum countries reject receiving any more refugees, then resettlement abroad seems to be the only solution. The latter was the situation of Indochinese refugees who fled a combination of general oppression, ethnic cleansing and targeting of particular groups for persecution.

The first phase of the exodus began in Cambodia with the assumption of power of the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975 when the communists captured Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Very shortly after that, Saigon fell to the Viet Cong and North Vietnam on 30 April 1975 and the large exodus began; many managed to escape with the departing Americans. The inevitable then followed in Laos. The long Laotian Civil War that had lasted (with some intermissions) from the withdrawal of the French in 1953 to the conquest of Vientiane by the Laotian communists, the Pathet Lao, backed by Vietnam, had ended in 1975.

The first phase of the exodus from all three countries in Indochina ran from 1975 until 1978.  The second phase took place between the end of 1978 until 1980 in a period of vast resettlement from countries of first asylum to countries of resettlement. The third phase took place from 1981 until 1989 when resettlement from refugee camps in South-East Asia ended for most with the creation of the Orderly Departures Program. In each of the phases, the numbers resettled in Canada varied greatly depending on “pull” factors as much as “push” factors. When taken all together, the population of Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese from Indochina who came to Canada between 1975 and 1989 is estimated to have been 160,000.

By 1996, there were estimated to be over 100,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Canada: Toronto (41,735); Montreal (25,340); Vancouver (16,870); Calgary (10,110); Edmonton (7,775); Ottawa (6,615) as well as many additional ones in places like Kitchener/Waterloo as just one example. This figure does not include Laotian, Cambodian or ethnic Chinese refugees from the three countries in Indochina, but does include ethnic Vietnamese who came under the family reunification category. From 1,500 Vietnamese in 1975, overwhelmingly in Québec, who mostly came to study and were cut off from returning, the population had grown enormously.

With the flight of the refugees from Vietnam, which included not only ethnic Vietnamese but ethnic Chinese as well, Canadians rooted in the protest movements of the sixties and seventies came face to face with their nemesis, the Indochinese refugees who fled the very regime that the Americans had fought in a war which the sixties generation so opposed. In 1975, after the termination of the Vietnam War, dubbed by the Vietnamese as the “American War”, Americans felt a special obligation to assist Vietnamese who had been associated with the American side in the conflict. The U.S. put pressure on its allies to assist in the humanitarian endeavour called Operation Frequent Wind. Canada was one of those allies which, unlike Australia, had remained aloof from any military involvement in Vietnam. Canada offered a token response and took in 3,100 migrants from Vietnam in 1975 and 2,500 in 1976 for a total of 5,608 over two years. By the end of 1977, the total taken in had risen to 7,500. The Refugee Convention was used as a guideline for selecting refugees for resettlement. Given that the general Canadian attitude was an assignation of blame to the United States for the responsibility for both the war and the refugees resulting from that war, this number was considered more than sufficient to demonstrate Canada’s humanitarianism without identifying the problem as a Canadian one.

The situation changed in 1978 when more than 100,000 fled. Most refugees from Vietnam were not ethnic Vietnamese but ethnic Chinese. The Hoa or Chinese Vietnamese, like the Indo and Pakistani Asians in Uganda, disproportionately dominated the South Vietnamese business and economic sector as well as its educated and upper class; they controlled an estimated 75% of the South Vietnam economy before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Once before in 1956, the Diêm government had tried to break the dominant ethnic Chinese control of the Vietnamese economy but failed. The Ngŏ Dinh Diêm regime in 1955 decreed that all Chinese born in Vietnam would automatically become Vietnamese citizens and in 1956 issued a decree nationalizing all categories of trade. Further, non-ethnic Vietnamese were excluded as butchers and fish mongers, rice or grain traders, in the trade of fuel (coal, charcoal, fuel oil), and from the textile industry at both the wholesale and retail levels. However, the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam circumvented these decrees most frequently by taking on Vietnamese “partners” rather than becoming citizens. By 1961, in spite of Diêm’s “forced nationalization” program, only 2,000 of approximately one million ethnic Chinese in South Vietnam had become Vietnamese citizens.

In 1976, Hanoi demanded that the ethnic Chinese register for the election of the National Assembly. At the time, business for the ethnic Chinese seemed to flourish as usual in spite of Hanoi’s introduction of currency reforms to break the control of the Hoa on the economy as the businessmen managed to use bribes on the Vietnamese communist cadres to allow their businesses to continue. The maintenance of the status quo was also helped by the utility of these businessmen to the Vietnam government in fostering regional trade. The Hanoi government efforts initially seemed to follow Diêm’s failed footsteps.

The crucial turning point was political rather than economic, though the economic crisis of 1977 as a result of crop failures that year and general economic mismanagement did not help. Hanoi’s initiatives were pushed by deteriorating relations with both the Khmer Rouge Cambodian regime on one side and China on the other. Between 1975 and 1978, there had been occasional clashes along the border between the two communist regimes, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea, punctuated in 1975 by the Cambodian attack on the Vietnamese island of Phú Quȭc and a second major attack in April of 1977 against the Vietnamese province of An Gang and Chāu Dȭc City, killing over one hundred Vietnamese civilians. This coincided with a Communist Party of Kampuchea Central Committee directive instructing local officials to arrest all ethnic Vietnamese, all Khmer who spoke Vietnamese and even Khmer who had Vietnamese friends.

The Pol Pot genocide began with the mass murder of the vast majority of those who had been arrested in the effort to purify Kampuchea of Vietnamese influences and to reclaim lost Khmer lands in Vietnam, primarily in the Mekong Delta. China, given its traditional rivalry with Vietnam over influence on Kampuchea, sided with Cambodia. Hanoi began to fear the emergence of a fifth column and pressure was exerted on the ethnic Chinese in what had been North Vietnam. In February 1978, China accused Hanoi of forcing an exodus of ethnic Chinese, especially in the border area.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese from North Vietnam fled to and settled in China. For many more ethnic Chinese in the south, who had been businessmen and entrepreneurs or who had been identified in any way with the prior regime (the Vietnamese middle class were generally opposed to living under communism), resettlement abroad was a preferable option. For the Vietnamese who had been expelled from Cambodia and were not sympathetic to the North Vietnamese government and for some of the refugees from the north opposed to communism, settlement in China was out of the question.

Pushed by domestic fears of “traitors”, border fears of expansionist and hegemonic neighbours beginning in the Tây Bắc and Việt Bắc autonomous zones along the border with China, the creeping infusion of ethnic-Chinese fostered markets raised the hackles in formerly North Vietnam. Add to that a fear of corruption of the communist purity of the north and the ideological predisposition of the regime. The ethnic cleansing of the Hoa from Vietnam had begun. In March, partly to displace the blame for the 1977 economic failures and partly because ethnic Chinese traders hoarded rice, contributing to the shortages and escalating both speculation and prices, Hanoi decreed the end of bourgeois trade in the south, and raided the shops and businesses in Cholon in Ho Chi Minh City, confiscating goods, currency and gold bars at the same time as Kampuchea escalated its attacks against Vietnam as it cleansed its population of ethnic Vietnamese.

In 1978, Vietnam accelerated its parallel process of ethnic cleansing of Chinese, on the one hand, and incorporating the Vietnamese bourgeoisie into a communist system on the other hand. 30,000 ethnic Chinese households in Vietnam were ordered to move to the New Economic Zones. The New Economic Zones had been initiated in agricultural areas by the Vietnamese government after 1975, ostensibly to relieve urban overpopulation, but, in practice, as a radical way of cutting the population off from its bourgeois roots and “re-educating” them. From 1978, the program of resettlement became serious. Thousands of urban dwellers were forced to migrate to these areas. Though initially resisted and followed by mass arrests, the authorities responded with disciplined determination and ruthlessness. Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam began to pay 10 taels of gold per person to leave Vietnam, a process fuelled by both ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship, government complicity and racism.

On 24 October 1978 an event took place which would serve as a catalyst to the change in refugee policy of the Canadian government. The Hai Hong incident had been preceded by the Southern Cross that had docked in Ho Chi Minh City on 24 August 1978, picked up 1,250 “paying” passengers and, after being escorted into international waters, the ship radioed for help claiming the boat had rescued that many refugees fleeing Vietnam. Singapore and Malaysia refused to allow the boat to dock. The Southern Cross dropped its passengers off on an uninhabited Indonesian island and UNHCR convinced Indonesia to put the refugees in a camp.

With an estimated 2,500 ethnic Chinese aboard, but really 3,000. the Hai Hong, a boat initially scheduled to be sold for scrap metal, attempted to repeat the “success” of the Southern Cross in late October. As expected, the Hai Hong was denied permission to dock in Port Klang, Malaysia. But the boat was in much worse condition than the Southern Cross and much more overcrowded when the Vietnamese government forced on board twice the number planned to be picked up. The incentives were very powerful for the Vietnamese officials; they received US$2,000 in gold per passenger while the “boat” entrepreneurs received US$1,200 each. Stranded off shore and lacking food, water and adequate sanitary services, the story received repeated front page news. The passengers were resupplied by the UNHCR and the Red Crescent. The ill-fated boat intended to resume its voyage to Indonesia but ran into Typhoon Rita. The Malaysian authorities, unwilling to take in more than the 35,000 refugees that they had already admitted and unwilling to encourage boat traffickers, towed the boat out to sea.

The news coverage took place in the aftermath of the 1976 changes to the Canadian Immigration Act that in part had established a separate provision for humanitarian movements as Designated Class Immigrants or humanitarian refugees that went beyond the definition of Convention Refugees, individuals who had to prove they had a well-founded fear of persecution. The new movement perfectly fitted into the new government policy and initiative, a situation recognized by Bud Cullen, the Minister of Immigration, as well as his senior officials. It also was totally congruent with the Cullen-Couture agreement, giving Québec the freedom to choose and recruit its own immigrants signed on 20 February 1978. Further, in addition to the 5,600 refugees from Vietnam that Canada had accepted in 1975 and 1976, Canada had accepted Indochinese refugees with little fanfare by the time of the Hai Hong incident and determined that most had been professionals and highly skilled and had successfully resettled largely in Quebec.

Though the Hai Hong incident was initially portrayed in the media coverage primarily as rich ethnic Chinese fleeing Vietnam with enormous stocks of gold bars abetted by boat smugglers, the governments of Canada and Quebec were convinced that humanitarian factors coincided with economic interests and that these “refugees”, like the Ugandan Asians before them, would be of benefit to Canada. Unlikely to have a close relative in Canada, designated class immigrants (humanitarian refugees) from Indochina had to speak English or French, pass a medical exam and have a desirable profession or trade that would benefit Canada.

Here, as with the Hungarian refugees in 1956, the Czech refugees in 1968 and the Ugandan Asians in 1972, ministerial initiative proved decisive. Canada, in light of the emergency, decided that principles of the justice favouring refugees already in camps be set aside; Canada would provide a significant leadership role and raise its intake for the Hai Hong from 200 to 600 refugees, a decision reinforced by the new tone in the media coverage and the positive public response to that coverage. Canada upped its usual commitment from 10% of the targeted population to almost 25%. Of the number presumed to be aboard, though Canada was the first to respond, the US took more, 897 plus the 76 residuals left at the end. Germany, mostly the State of Niedersachsen alone through a special program initiated by the Minister of State, admitted more than Canada – 657; West Germany in total took 1,000. France took 222, Belgium 150, Switzerland 52, New Zealand, 9, Australia 8. Of the refugees aboard the Hai Hong, Canada admitted 604, of what turned out to be over 3,000 rather than 2,500 aboard the Hai Hong with Canada’s share ending up as 20% not 25%.

Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.

To be continued

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Part 1V on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

In one sense, 1979 was very much like 2015, most noticeably in the number of spectacular airline crashes that took place: the American Airlines DC-10 that crashed on takeoff from O’hare Airport in Chicago killing 273 in May 1979, the collision of two Russian airliners in August killing 173, the crash of a DC-10 at the end of October in Mexico City that killed 74 and the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed at the end of November into Mt Erebus on Antarctica killing all 257 on board. 2015 also resemble 1979 in the number of stories of migrants fleeing on boats from Africa and drowning at sea. Otherwise, 1979 belonged to a very different world, especially in Canada, which seemed to occupy a privileged and happy Eden of its own with some exceptions, such as the train derailment in Mississauga near the end of 1979 that forced the evacuation of 200,000.

The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees took off like a rocket in the summer of 1979. The Liberal government had committed itself to bringing in 5,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada during 1979. On 22 May of that year the government of Canada was defeated in a national election and a very young and eager Progressive Conservative Party led by Joe Clark won the election and formed a new minority government. Joe Clark at the age of 39 became Canada’s youngest Prime Minister on 4 June.

No sooner had the Conservatives come to power than they faced the question of what action to take in response to the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats that were often attacked by pirates. Ron Atkey had been briefed in detail by Bud Cullen, the previous Minister of Immigration in the Liberal government, on the need to take further action. Atkey, named by Joe Clark as the Minister of Immigration, had obtained government approval to increase the total intake for 1979 to 12,000, 8,000 to be sponsored by the government and 4,000 allocated for sponsorship by the private sector. By July, the government had increased the target to 50,000, including 8,000 sponsored by the government, 21,000 additional government sponsorships on a matching basis with 21,000 to be sponsored by the private sector.

What was happening in Canada, in its cultural and political life that led the population of Canada to become so active and involved in the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees? Before the end of the year, the Canadian private sector had surpassed the target of 21,000 sponsorships with almost 30,000. Further, the success was not only in quantity but in the successful adaptation of the refugees to Canadian life. Though Canada was a cold country, the welcome and outreach by Canadians involved in the refugee sponsorship movement was anything but.

That period in Canada was a time of dramatic political change yet unusual continuity. On 16 August 1979, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker died but he had left a legacy of rights that infused all political parties in Canada at the time. When the short-lived Clark government was defeated in February 1980, the Liberals returned to power and they increased the total targeted intake of Indochinese refugees from 50,000 to 60,000 to ensure that the government kept its previous matching pledge.

The superficial shifting of political power did not threaten the progressive unity underneath these political changes epitomized by Bud Cullen briefing Ron Atkey in detail on the Indochinese refugee problem and the need to enhance Canada’s role. Canada was a place of calm and confidence, whatever the political shenanigans. Humanitarianism seemed to captivate the political imagination.

However, much deeper and more profound changes were underway in Southeast Asia. Following the initial Nixon initiative, the U.S. and China had exchanged diplomatic missions. On 29 January 1979, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington.   Deng would emerge subsequently as President to initiate the most substantial changes in China to move the country from a peasant economy to an industrial and trading economic power based on private ownership and entrepreneurship while the Communist Party retained a monopoly on power.

At the same time, America had begun to deal with its own failure in Vietnam. Two anti-Vietnam war movies won top honours at the 51st Academy Awards, Deer Hunter nominated nine times and winning the award for best picture, best director (Michael Cimino) and best supporting actor for Christopher Walkem, while Coming Home nominated eight times won awards for John Voigt as the best actor and Jane Fonda as the best actress as well as the award for the best original screenplay. Shortly after the awards ceremony the world experienced the release of  Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

During this very same period, Vietnam invaded another communist state, Cambodia, and captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was an ally of China and China invaded Vietnam setting off the Sino-Vietnamese War. The People’s Republic of China withdrew its troops from Vietnam a month later, but not without eventually extracting severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics.

At the same time, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were on a long decline with some brief intermissions, the latter on a steep economic and political one and the former on a very gradual hardly noticeable retreat restricted to the international political arena. The year was an auspicious one for the United States, beginning with the major nuclear accident and partial meltdown at 3 Mile Island in Middletown Pennsylvania. America’s protectorates in the South Pacific were achieving independence, though they remained satraps of America under American tutelage and protection. On 1 October, the U.S. would return the Panama Canal to Panama. But the United States was also undergoing a major cultural revolution as the period of LGBT rights began, ironically, with the murder of Mayor Moscone of San Francisco and the passing of the first gay rights bill in Los Angeles. The beginning of the retreat from its self-perception as the world’s policeman went hand-in-hand with the beginning of a surrender of a macho culture that had built into it the repression not only of non-macho men who come out as gay or transsexual, but the oppression of women, especially lesbians.

While all this turmoil was underway abroad and nearby, Canada was going through very peaceful elections that produced an upset and the displacement of the long ruling Liberals with the conservatives in power. In South East Asia, Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.

In the meanwhile, though U.S. turmoil had ended in Southeast Asia, in the near east, events were not as tranquil. The year had begun with the flight of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Egypt and the interim Bakhtiar government was soon displaced by the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris, who declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April. Iran was in turmoil and that turmoil allowed OPEC over a period of three months to raise the price of oil by 30%. The Iranian government was at war with its Kurdish population; a virulent pogrom was launched against Iranian Kurds and its own non-Kurdish population as book burnings and mass executions took place over the next six months.  On 4 November, 400 radical young Islamists raided and occupied the American embassy in Tehran taking many of the diplomatic personnel hostage, though some escaped to Canadian facilities. Female and black employees were soon released. Khomeini assumed absolute control and declared America to be the “Great Satan.” The U.S. responded to the provocation, not by bombing Iran to smithereens for such a provocative action, but by freezing Iranian assets and stopping the import of Iranian oil and gas. Iran reciprocated by cancelling all American contracts.

While Iran was a bubbling volcano and while a war had broken out between North and South Yemen that would continue with periodic eruptions to the present day, Israel and Egypt were forging a peace agreement that took effect on 25 April. The oil fields that Israel had seized in 1967 were returned in November and Israel transferred back the Sinai, or almost all of it. The unbelievable had happened. The most powerful state by far in the Arab world, the centre of Arab filmmaking, book publishing and intellectual creativity, had given up on its ambition of becoming the regional hegemon. Who knew then that Iran and, to some extent Turkey, would attempt to move into the vacuum left in the wake of the Egyptian retreat.

In the meanwhile, Latin American dominoes seemed to be falling into communist or fascist hands. The New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy dictatorship in Grenada and the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua as dictator Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami. In El Salvador, it was another story as a military coup forced President and General Carlos Romero to flee. In contrast, in Africa things seemed to be looking up, with the emphasis on “seems”. Tanzania invaded Uganda and the mad man of Africa, President Idi Amin, fled the country. In Rhodesia, finally a black government replaced the repressive white minority and Bishop Muzorewa assumed power. Even the Congo adopted a constitution, but it, like many reforms in Africa, would prove to be mirages though everyone was pleased to see the last of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, overthrown in a coup. Perhaps after Rhodesia, the most hailed event was the accession to power in Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos.

While the United States was in turmoil overseas, Britain was in lock-down mode at home. 10,000 public sector workers went on strike. The IRA violence was rising and Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, was assassinated in The Hague. In late March, Airey Neave, a British parliamentarian, was killed by a car bomb outside of Westminster. As bombs were going off all across Northern Ireland, as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were being murdered and British soldiers were being ambushed, as the violence culminated in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten in September, Margaret Thatcher had become the first female Prime Minister of Britain after the James Callaghan government had collapsed in May. She would set off a political revolution that Britain had not seen for a century, providing a preview of what would happen when Ronald Reagan won over the incumbent Jimmy Carter who had so bungled the Iran file. To top the humiliating period the UK was going through, Sir Anthony Blunt, art advisor to the Queen, was outed as the fourth member of the Soviet spy ring. Is it any wonder that, compared to Canada’s success, Britain’s program of resettling Indochinese refugees went so badly, quite aside from the foolish decision to resettle the refugees in vacant public housing, that is, precisely in areas with very high unemployment levels.

Even though the Red Army hockey team beat the New York Rangers, the runner-up in the Stanley Cup contest, by a score of 5-2 in Madison Square Garden, by year’s end, the U.S.S.R. had made the fatal mistake that would doom the Soviet empire when at the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, overthrew President Hafizullah Amin and seized the presidential palace in Kabul. The fall of the Soviet empire had probably already been triggered by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June. At the height of all this publicity in Canada about the Boat People and as Canada was in transition from a Liberal to a Tory government, the world seemed to be going through hell as well as growing seeds for a new future.

All that is to say is that Canada was a peaceable kingdom engaged in peripheral and irrelevant debates over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China and France seemed to be racing each other before the Salt II test ban treaty took effect to test and explode as many nuclear weapons as each could, weapons that were useless if ever used and only of use in deterrence if they were never used. It was indeed a mad mad world and Canada seemed an island of tranquility in a global epidemic of insanity. The sign – sports. The NHL was expanding to absorb the four teams in the World Hockey Association – the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers. On 21 May when the news o the boat people was reaching a fever pitch just two weeks before the Tories were to take power, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4 games to 1 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was great time to be a Canadian and a relatively easy time for a Canadian to be a humanitarian.

Vietnam and Canada: Journey to Freedom Day

Vietnam and Canada: Journey to Freedom Day


Howard Adelman

(NOTE: as with all my blogs, receivers are free to circulate this blog. In this case, I hope they will circulate it, especially to other members of the Canadian Vietnamese community. I always welcome feedback.)

Last week I received an email forwarded to me from the Honourable Jason Kenney requesting my signature on a petition in support of Bill S-219, originally called Black April Day, and retitled Journey to Freedom Day (Journée du Parcours). An introduction to the bill, its historical context and the explanation of its purpose of the bill can be found at: The bill was very recently passed by the Senate of Canada and is currently before the House of Commons for its approval. (…) The bill is intended to officially recognize April 30th as Journey to Freedom Day in Canada in commemoration of the flight of tens of thousands of Vietnamese from Vietnam who found refuge in Canada after 1975.

Though Kenney is a senior minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, the bill is a private member’s bill rather than a government bill; members of each party are free to vote on the bill independent of the party of which they are a member. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine Conservative Party members voting against the bill when it is strongly supported by a high profile cabinet minister and was initially sponsored by an ethnic Vietnamese member of the Senate, Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, who was appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper. Senator Mobina Jaffer, a Liberal, also strongly supported the bill.

Why the full press? The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons and can easily pass the bill. Why has such a bill become controversial? Is it because the bill has led to a spat with the government of Vietnam as newspaper headline writers have suggested in reporting on the bill?;
When I open my laptop daily, including this morning, picture after picture of the beauty of Vietnam, taken by my friend Truc, pass before my eyes. Nancy’s long visit there reinforced a fondness for that country, a fondness that is only somewhat painful for personal reasons – because of the death of a friend of my son in a road accident when my son was traveling with him south of Hanoi. Nevertheless, I feel a great love for that country, even though I have never visited. So I am very bothered by a dispute between Canada and the Government of Vietnam.

Yesterday, on my first full day in San Pancho, Mexico, as I listened to the Pacific waves crashing on shore, I also opened the 5 December 2014 minutes received by email of the meeting of the Indochinese Refugee Movement Project Steering Committee Meeting of which I am a member. The Project is intended to provide an archive of documents on the Indochinese refugee resettlement, an oral history, a curriculum, a website, a docudrama and initiate commemoration efforts in 2015 on the 40th anniversary of the beginning of that movement. That meeting was coordinated by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. I was unable to attend the meeting, even by Skype, as, at the time, I was en route to Marin County, CA heading for Mexico.

The minutes opened with a discussion of the controversy surrounding the bill with the suggested explanation that the media had framed the bill as an act that would cause a “diplomatic spat between Canada and Vietnam”. The minutes expressed a concern that the controversy might taint the efforts of the project to archive a documentary record of that refugee resettlement by entangling its aims with that of the supposedly “controversial” bill, even though the project had nothing to do with the bill. The concern of the committee seemed not to be the spat with Vietnam over the bill, but the effects of the bill on the other communities of Indochinese refugees (Cambodians, Laotians, ethnic Chinese from Indochina). The Project wanted to be clear that its focus was on all Indochinese Communities represented by our project.

I will give my explanation for the controversy after I discuss the contents and the context of the bill and also offer my evaluation of the bill itself. April 30th is commemorated by the Vietnamese community in Canada because, on 30 April 1975, Saigon fell to the combined forces of North Vietnam, officially called the People’s Army of Vietnam (not North Vietnam) and the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam (the Viet Cong). (Ironically, Vietnam means southern Viet.) As the members of the sixties generation well recall, the Vietnam War was a defining issue in North America from 1964, when U.S. President Johnson used the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident to get Congressional approval for the USA to send military advisors to the South Vietnam government in 1964 and then intervene with ground troops in 1965. The controversy only ended in 1973. Henry Kissinger, as U.S. President Nixon’s Secretary of State, had worked out a face saving Paris Peace Accord (27 January 1973) to permit the American troops to withdraw from South Vietnam in what many regarded as the faint hope that South Vietnam could survive as a separate country, much as South Korea has.

It was not to be.

Bill S-219

The bill is described in its opening section as: “An Act respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.” In the Preamble, the following contextual items are mentioned:
• the role Canadian forces played in the UN supervising force;
• the bill refers to the military forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front invading (my italics) South Vietnam that led to the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Government;
• cites the UNHCR as blaming deteriorating economic conditions and abuses of human rights as contributing to the exodus of Vietnamese refugees – the Vietnamese “Boat People”
• the privately-sponsored refugee project assisted 34,000 Vietnamese refugees [NOTE: this phrase could mean ex-citizens of Vietnam or refugees from Vietnam who are ethnic Vietnamese not refugees from Vietnam] coming to Canada while the Canadian government resettled 26,000;
• notes the major and sustained contribution by the people of Canada to the Indochinese exodus was recognized by the UNHCR which awarded the Nansen Refugee Award to the “People of Canada” in 1986;
• members of the Vietnamese community refer to April 30 th as “Black April Day”, or “Journey to Freedom Day”
• April 30th should be designated as Journey to Freedom Day to remember and commemorate a) the lives lost,
b) the suffering experienced during the exodus,
c) the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees into Canada,
d) the gratitude of Vietnamese people in Canada to the Canadian people and the Government of Canada for accepting them,
e) contributions of Vietnamese-Canadian people — whose population is now approximately 300,000 — to Canadian society.

Some elaboration:
• Other than supplying military supervisors to observe the so-called peace provided in the Paris Peace Accords, the Government of Canada stayed out of that war and did not, as Australia did, contribute troops to the American-led effort to support the South Vietnamese government against the insurgents;
• The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Government was created on 2 July 1976 when North and South Vietnam were formally united, and though North Vietnam did invade South Vietnam, contrary to the terms of the Paris Peace Accord, and captured the province of Phuóc Long in December 1974 beginning a full scale offensive, reputable historians would not describe the National Liberation Army (the Viet Cong) in South Vietnam as “invading” South Vietnam for, though supported by Hanoi, the Viet Cong insurrection was a civil war begun in the late 1950s as a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the corrupt Diệm government;
• The UNHCR rarely enters into a political analysis of the causes of an exodus. It was not involved in dealing with the exodus of Vietnamese, largely Catholic, from the north in 1954 following the French withdrawal from Vietnam and its division into South and North. In Terms of Refuge: The Indochinese Exodus and the International Response, W. Courtland Robinson’s official history of the Vietnamese (and other Indochinese refugees), based on full and complete access to UNHCR documents, Robinson concluded that, in 1974, UNHCR became involved with Vietnamese refugees to assist in the return and reintegration of refugees (my italics) resulting from war. Hence, UNHCR opened an office in Hanoi. In 1975, for example, violence broke out in Guam as several hundred Vietnamese refugees demanded the right to return to Vietnam just as many others began to flee. After the fall of Saigon, UNHCR became involved with helping the refugees (35,000) who, according to UNHCR, primarily left Vietnam between 1975 and 1978 for ideological reasons because they were on the losing side in that war, a view which was strongly at odds with that of the USA, which insisted that it was an exodus of people fearing persecution by the Communist government. Only in 1978, when the renewed and much more massive outflow was the result of many factors, including intolerance of ethnic minorities (the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam), religious intolerance, government oppression and the dislocation caused by extensive economic “reforms”, did the refugees become the “Boat People”. I have only included this very condensed summary to indicate that the preamble in the bill with respect to UNHCR’s involvement really refers to the massive exodus after 1978;
• Though Canada took 5,608 Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 1978, 16% of the exodus, it only became a leader in resettling the refugees in 1978 with the arrival of the huge freighter, the Southern Cross, in the Philippines, and the arrival in December of another freighter, the Hai Hong, in Hong Kong; Canada’s involvement escalated to the role of a leader of Vietnamese “Boat People” resettlement;
• In 2006, the ethnic Vietnamese population in Canada was officially estimated at over 180,000 so it is difficult to reconcile this figure with the current estimated population of Canadians of Vietnamese origin of 300,000 or the figure of only 60,000 Vietnamese refugees brought to Canada since 5,608 came in the first wave (1975 to 1978), an estimated 50,000 in the second wave (1979-1980), and many more in the subsequent third wave;
• There is a confusion in Bill S-219 between refugees from Vietnam and Vietnamese refugees, who may either be ethnic Vietnamese or ethnic Chinese from Vietnam;
• The bill seems to be sensitive to the feelings of the Thai, Malaysian and other regional governments, which often pushed the refugee boats out to sea until Western countries pledged to resettle the refugees, for there is no mention of the role of these governments in Canada’s decision to resettle the refugees;
• The bill ignores the other Indochinese refugees and the different causes of their plight and subsequent exodus, including the pushback of 42,000 Cambodians from the Thai border in June 1979.

The controversy over the bill between the Government of Vietnam and the Canadian government is significant because the current Harper government is one that strongly supports international trade. Since 2000, following its economic reforms, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world. That may explain the extreme mildness when referring to the Hanoi government, for there is no mention of the almost 200,000 Vietnamese killed or executed by the Hanoi government after it came to power in 1954 or of the tens of thousands imprisoned.

What did the Vietnamese government say in its protest against the bill? Before I get into that, it is important to note that there were other objections to the bill, though very little about ignoring Canada’s other Indochinese communities. The bill, however, is supposedly controversial within the Vietnamese community; the Canada-Vietnam Friendship Association and the Canada-Vietnam Trade Council suggested the bill would create tension. They wanted cordial relations with Vietnam and also wanted to put the past behind them. In addition, Peter Tran, an old friend, opposed the bill because it had never been supported by a referendum within the Vietnamese community.

Note that the bill says very little, in fact, almost nothing about past causes and circumstances, in spite of the Vietnamese ambassador claiming that the bill provides a distorted view of his country’s history. The bill does ignore Canada’s positive bilateral relationship with Vietnam over the past 40 years, especially the economic relations as they have developed over the last fifteen years, but what relevance does that have to the purposes of the bill?

Some argue that we are on a slippery slope; is Canada to have a national day to celebrate every ethnic group? However, this is not a national day celebration, such as Tartan Day celebrated on the 6th of April. It is more akin to Raoul Wallenberg Day, January 17th that commemorates what Wallenberg did to help Jews escape the genocide of Nazi Germany.

There were also process concerns. The Vietnamese ambassador was not permitted to come before the committee and had to register his objections in writing. When the letter was received, delayed because it had to be translated into French, the Senate committee had already reported back to the Senate and did not consider the letter. Witnesses from the Vietnamese community, especially those opposed to the bill, were not invited to the committee considering the bill. Only three witnesses appeared. Further, the bill, after languishing in committee for months, was hurriedly passed by the Senate. The Vietnamese ambassador, Anh Dung, in his letter, accused Ngo of dredging up the past, painting a distorted view of his country’s history and ignoring its positive bilateral relationship with Canada over the past 40 years. “The government of Vietnam disagrees with this negative and selective portrayal and has expressed its concerns privately and publicly…about the language and intent of this bill.” The ambassador, in addition to his complaints about the portrait of Vietnam painted in the bill and about dredging up the past, claimed that the bill, if passed, will have an adverse impact on the growing bilateral relations between Canada and Vietnam. The bill was accused of inciting hatred between Canada and Vietnam and fostering division not unity. And it was not only the ambassador who complained about the bill. Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, Pham Binh Minh, wrote John Baird in June to voice his objections.

I have absolutely no problem with the intent of the bill. Commemorating the suffering of the Vietnamese community in Canada, the huge loss of lives in their flight, yet their very successful resettlement in Canada, is commendable. To call this “dredging up the past” is not only an insult to Canadians of Vietnamese descent, it flies in the face of the widespread belief in Canada that the past must not only be remembered, but wrongs that took place must be pointed out and analyzed. History should NOT be forgotten but recalled. Any country that desires to suppress its past, any country that does not confront its past head on, seriously risks a failure to liberate itself from that part of its past that is despicable. The past must be brought into the present and thoroughly debated.

Articulating and explicating the causes of the exodus of the “Boat People”, however, is not Canada’s task, it is Vietnam’s. Nor is a private member’s bill the place to record and analyze that history. And the bill does not do that. It offers only a very brief passing reference to that history that is 90% accurate, and the one minor inaccuracy can be corrected in committee as the House considers the bill. If the bill has a detrimental effect on Canada’s economic and social relations, then that is a problem for Vietnam, not Canada. Canadian policy in relationship to its own citizens is a Canadian issue, not Vietnam’s, and should not be subject to Vietnam government threats or possible blackmail.

However, there are a number of other issues, all relatively minor, which can be corrected in the committee of the House of Commons considering the bill and then passing an amended version that can then be sent back to the Senate for its approval. Which takes us back to the initial question. Why has the bill been handled so poorly and with last minute haste? I can think of only one reason, but there may be others. Aside from the genuine merits of the bill, it is probably intended both to win favour with the Vietnamese-Canadian community as part of Jason Kenney’s larger strategy of shifting ethnic Canadian support from the Liberal Party to the Conservatives and to place the Liberal party in a conundrum, forcing that party, if possible, to be ambivalent about the bill. Whatever the Liberal Party does, it loses by either supporting a quasi-government initiated bill or placing obstacles in its way. The Conservative Party gains whichever path the opposition takes.

The motives of the Conservative Party may be primarily or secondarily political – domestically to secure support from the Vietnamese community in Canada, and, by making it a private member’s bill, to minimize as much as possible any friction with Vietnam. However, that is insufficient grounds for opposing the bill. So is the fear that often plagues Canadian policy in dealing with different ethnic groups. A policy of apologizing to one group may inundate needed apologies to others. A policy commemorating the experience of one ethnic group may result in a cascade of requests by other groups. The argument is often made that commemorating one group’s past suffering discriminates and ignores the suffering of other groups. It does not. It makes one more sensitive to the history of suffering. The more commemorations for more groups, the better position Canadians are in to both understand suffering and to comprehend the multicultural heritage of this country.

I support the bill and hope there will be some fine tuning by the committee of the House of Commons. If there is not, I would still support the bill. Its merits far outweigh any disagreements I have with how the bill was passed by the Senate or the lack of clarity and even errors in the wording.