THE AMERICAN REFUGEE SERVICE

Until 1971 there were two major war resistance organizations in Montreal, The Montreal Council To Aid War Resisters and The American Deserters Committee. The Council was a pretty much low keyed outfit, it strived to maintain such a presence. It was an all around, "full service" organization, providing counseling and assisting with housing and employment for both draft resisters and deserters. The ADC on the other hand was a much more hard lined, radical outfit that specifically worked with deserters only.

David Beauchine, who headed up the ADC when I first came into contact with it, possessed a very mild mannered demeanor on the outside but I somehow always suspected that he was capable of pretty much anything given the right motivation, means, and circumstances. In 1971 the two groups merged. The intent was to present a more unified presence to the outside world. At least that was what the press and everyone else was told. The truth of the matter is that there was so much shit going on within the ADC between it's members that the group was about to implode.

In actuality the group had already splintered and several factions had gone their separate ways. There were some serious radicals within the core of the ADC. They forever pressed for more extreme measures of challenging the US Government. This created quite a high tension atmosphere. There was constant in-house fighting and arguing. I met several of these hardliners. I "knew" none of them and I cared to know less. These were some very dangerous individuals. It would not surprise me to learn that some of them went on to do very extreme things in their war on the United States Government. I doubt I'll ever know though for with the merger of the two groups most of the ADC staff disappeared. Some of them, "literally". It had long been suspected that more than one member of the ADC was actually an undercover FBI Agent. Undercover agents were everywhere in those days.

Anyway, the groups merged and The American Refugee Service was born. As I mentioned previously however, though The ARS became the group's offical title it would never truly cease to be, The Montreal Council To Aid War Resisters. Richard maintained directorship of the group, David stuck with us for awhile though he kept pretty much out of the picture until the tv crews arrived for whatever reason. He loved having the podium. Eventually he left the group all together as Richard and Michael Hendricks, a gay activist and Council supporter, began doing most of the group's pr work until I took over the job. David died of a brain tumor several years later.

The basic function of The ARS was pretty much the same as it had been as The Council. We provided refugee Americans with an initial contact in Canada so that they didn't go stumbling around blindly into the cold midnight. Once they contacted us we set the wheels of the immigration process into motion. We also assisted them in finding housing if they had money, or provided them with a bed and meals at our hostel if they didn't have money. Getting them gainfully employed was a tricky and touchy area we helped in. Without a work permit, being employed in Canada was an offense which subjected the offender to deportation. Not a pleasant thought at all for a draft resister or a deserter. A work permit was obtained through application. Applications were typically backed up for a year or more. "Hey, one's gotta' eat, 'eh?" Through a small network of merchants, factories and fellow Americans who had established business' or companies in Canada, we managed to secure life sustaining employment for refugees on a somewhat, "under-the-table" basis. It was the only thing that could be done.

Now the immigration process itself was really not that big a deal for a properly prepared and equally properly qualified applicant. It was simply a walk-thru with them. Of course, such applicants were far from the norm. For the others however, those with far less credentials or pedigree, things could get rough on our side and I'm sure, "scary" on theirs. These cases took leg work, luck and excellent preperation. Fortunately, through the years we had made a few friends on the "inside" at immigration and we usually knew when a perspective applicant could expect trouble with his application. In those cases we provided legal assistance in the form of attorneys and legal aides who were sympathetic to our cause and volunteered their time.

There were some instances, a good number of them actually, when we had to personally get down into the trenches with the men. It was not a well known fact but an applicant for immigration into Canada could obtain an additional 10 points on his score by applying for Landed Status "at" the Canadian border instead of from within Canada. This 10 points was most crucial in many cases. It was definitely the make-or-break factor. The trick to getting that extra 10 points however was one of sheer nerve and guts. To apply at the Canadian border meant just that, going to a customs station at the Canadian border. Sounds simple. However, there was only a couple of ways to get to a Canadian customs station at the border and all of those ways entailed the applicant and his escort physically entering the United States which of course meant going through US Customs. They would then go down the road a ways, usually to Plattsburgh, NY, turn around and head back into Canada. This process was of course accomplished with the use of false ID's that we provided. It was definitely not an alternative that could be used on everybody who needed a few extra points on their application. It was reserved for extreme cases as it took an applicant that we felt had the nerves to go through with it, as well as a counselor who could hold up under the strain. Being caught aiding a federal fugutive or deserter was certainly not taken lightly in those days. Nonetheless it was a means we used on a number of occasions to salvage a good man's future. In all the times we did it we "lost" only one person.

Bob was a real southern boy from Florida, a deserter. He was short with blonde hair. He had stayed at our hostel in preperation for his trip. He was the kind of guy everyone loved to kid. He took it in stride. Mainly it was his accent that everyone kidded him about. His accent was as thick as molasses. We were leery about sending him in the first place, however he was insistent about going and for some reason that I just cannot recall at this moment, we were under some type of time restraint or time frame regarding Bob's application being submitted. We provided him with Canadian ID for his trip back into the US, sent him in the care of two Canadians who sometimes assisted us with the "sticky" ones, and basically we told him to just keep his mouth shut. Well, he didn't. Keep his mouth shut, that is, and sad to say he paid the price for it. The story goes, he flashed that Canadian ID at the US Customs Station and when the entire group was asked where they were heading in the US, Bob was the first to blurt out, "Just down the road a piece.", in all that southern twang. He was taken into custody, questioned and "almost" released when they couldn't find any warrants on him at first. The fact that he had false ID on him however made them dig deeper and eventually he was discovered to be AWOL. He was taken off to jail. Our Canadian friends were released unscathed the next day. That would have been the end of it for me except evidently Bob fell into that category of, "God watches over small children and fools." Sometime later he called me one day just out of the clear blue. He was back home living in Florida. He had been given a less than honorable discharge and served 120 days in the stockade and now he was a free man. A little worst for the wear and bearing the scars of battle perhaps but a free man just the same. And there he was on the beach in the sunshine while I sat staring out at four feet of snow.

Back To Front Page

Contents Copyright 2001 - 2008
Gary W. Davis.
All Rights And What's Left Reserved

This Page Last Updated On May 1, 2008.