August 10, 2018

A Momentous Border Crossing

I met Cliff in 1970, when I was a grad student at a university in Ohio, and he was an undergrad. We were singing folk songs in local clubs. I inquired about how he could be staving off the draft call, since he was only a part-time student, and he said that he was going to go to jail rather than go to serve in the military, which would likely have sent him to what we all considered an illegal war in Vietnam. I had graduated from a college in the midwest, in music, and a few of my colleagues had moved to Canada to perform in film and concerts. They loved their lives in Canada. My closest friend, Janet, kept writing about what a great place it was to live and about the opportunities in music. So I suggested to Cliff that we drive north. Canada was accepting draft dodgers with no questions asked, we were told. And we did!

We loaded all of our worldly belongings into Cliff's parents' car and drove north towards Toronto. We got to the Canadian border and, in our naiveté, said: "We want to move to Canada." We were two young hippies with no money or documents. We went through the immigration process and were turned down. One of the questions was regarding our employability. At the time, I was a TV and radio producer in Ohio. When I was assessed for employment points, I was only given one point because they classified me as a "clerk." They didn't have a classification for TV producer!

Anyway, we drove back to Ohio from the Windsor border, unloaded everything except clothing in a suitcase, and drove to a different border. We decided to return as tourists and visit, so they welcomed us.

We stayed in a seedy motel on the Lakeshore in Toronto. The next day we went to the offices of Toronto Anti-Draft Program (TADP), an organization of Canadians and Americans that was dedicated to helping the tens of thousands of young men escaping the U.S. draft. The TADP people helped us to get organized. They gave Cliff a job letter from a library. It was a fake job offer, but actually written by the library, which supported what we were doing. They explained how to be successful at immigration and were willing to give us cash to show at the border so that we would appear to be solvent.

We found a flat in a house on Clinton Street. For five weeks I commuted to Ohio to finish my course work. Each week I would bring more of our stuff and never had border issues. Cliff looked for work. In July, 1971, we decided to try to immigrate. By then, we had gotten married (we thought that would help with immigration), cut our hair, bought suits, gathered reference letters from clergy and employers, obtained copies of our degree certificates, assembled birth documents, raised a bit of money, and, with the help of TADP, put together an impressive portfolio.

We then had to get back to the U.S., but Cliff was now a wanted man. The FBI had shown up at his apartment the day after we left for Canada! So we borrowed ID from a nice Canadian who resembled Cliff (at that time there was no picture ID), went back to the U.S., claiming that Cliff was "Gordon," and then drove to a Canadian border to apply for immigration. This time my credentials didn't count because I was "the wife." However, we had enough going for us that we were given landed immigrant status.

We reported back to TADP. They ask us to help the next wave. For two years, we housed draft dodgers and deserters who arrived in Toronto. Every three days, there would be a new guy or couple. We helped them understand Toronto, gave them refuge and food, and assisted them in finding permanent housing. And we continued to sing in coffee houses in Toronto. I got a job with Screen Gems TV, working as a Production Assistant on the popular show "Under Attack." Cliff worked in a library.

Cliff eventually returned to Ohio under the amnesty program. We had split up, and he was very close to his family. I stayed. I loved Canada and still do. I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to us by those caring Canadians. I went on to open a successful entertainment business that created job opportunities for thousands of performers over the 32 years I had the company. I sold the company in 2011 and now work with individual artists to develop their careers. I've spent decades "giving back" to the community in a myriad of ways, and, because of my volunteer work, was recognized as "Citizen of the Year” by my local community.