Roads North to Exile

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Roads North to Exile: Research findings on the arrival of Chilean exiles to Canada, 1973-1978 Francis Peddie PhD VI, Department of History York University, Toronto

The coup detat that overthrew the Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, set into motion a diaspora of Chileans to all corners of the world that consisted of as much as ten percent of the nations population.1 During the more than sixteen years of military rule, close to 20 000 Chileans migrated to Canada, a country which until the 1970s had a miniscule Chilean presence.2 While some went for economic reasons, others left Chile under duress, victims of the oppression that targeted supporters of the Unidad Popular project and opponents of the military government. My doctoral research focuses on Chileans who went to Canada as political exiles between 1973 and 1978, and draws largely on the testimony of 21 people who self-identify as exiles who granted me interviews between the autumn of 2008 and the spring of 2010. The findings I present here examine one of the central questions of my dissertation, that is, how did such a large group of Chileans end up in Canada. Most Chilean exiles had little to no knowledge of Canada and very few had any kind of tie to the country, so we must ask how Canada ended up being a country of refuge to so many people when it was a distant and unknown place. As my research notes reveal, there were multiple roads into exile for the interview subjects, and while all were forced migrants, many arrived as landed immigrants rather than refugees. The findings also illustrate the


During the military regime, the Chilean authorities put the number as low as 30 000, while other sources put the number of political exiles only at over one million. In both these cases, there were obvious political justifications for inflating or downplaying numbers. 200 000 seems to be a safe conservative estimate, which appears in several sources: Jaime Llambias-Wolff, Chiles Exiles and Their Return in Robin Cohen, ed. The Cambridge Survey of World Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 229; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, La situacin de los refugiados en el mundo 2000. Cincuenta aos de accin humanitaria. United Nations, 2000, p 3; Organizacin Internacional para las Migraciones, Las Migraciones Internacionales: Anlisis y perspectivas para una Poltica Migratoria. Santiago, 2003, p. 5; a 1993 Chilean Senate statement puts it at 250 000 (Legislatura 326, Ordinaria Sesin del Congreso Pleno, May 21, 1993); also see Vicara de la Solidaridad, Documento de Trabajo, which has the number as 246 526 based on Investigative Police statistics. Centro de Documentacin de la Vicara de la Solidaridad (henceforth CDVS), Exilio, box 30. Vicara de la Solidaridad, Documento de Trabajo, p. 228. The figure of one million refers to how many Chileans left, either permanently or temporarily, during the years of military rule, many of whom left for economic reasons related to the restructuring of the economy carried out by the regime. 2 In a study prepared for the Canadian Hispanic Congress by Statistics Canada using data from the 2001 census, only 10 040 Hispanics are found to have come to Canada before 1961, among whom there were 125 Chileans. By 1970, a little over 500 more had arrived. Between 1971 and 1980, 10 915 new Chileans arrived, with 7 785 more coming in the next decade. Statistics Canada, Hispanic Spanish speaking population in Canada: a special report prepared for the Canadian Hispanic Congress. 2006, p. 31, 36. The report does not state from what year the counting of Latin American immigrants begins.

desperate situation many people faced in the aftermath of the coup dtat, and how forced expatriation obligated asylum seekers to resettle anywhere they could. In the case of Canada, the admission of Chilean exiles was problematic for government officials and opposed by some of the general public.3 Cold War fears of communist infiltration and Canadas close ties with the United States a country which worked covertly with the Chilean opposition and military to bring down Allendes government militated against welcoming proponents of leftist ideologies to resettle in the country.4 Canadas initial response to the humanitarian crisis in Chile was dilatory and at times contradictory. Official announcements by high-level government ministers of Canadas willingness to provide shelter to the persecuted were often contradicted by the actions of agents of the immigration and security services.5However, a combination of domestic and international pressure from groups advocating the admission of Chileans on humanitarian grounds eventually led to the announcement in Parliament on November 30, 1973, of the Special Movement Chile (SMC). This special program allowed Chileans who were not classifiable as refugees under the terms of the 1951 United Nations definition to enter Canada under relaxed immigration criteria and provide them with various forms of financial support, subsistence and job-placement services,3

Take, for example, this statement by a security official that illustrates the fears of the Canadian government: Professional or dedicated revolutionariesare apt to regard the country which grants them asylum simply as a base from which they can continue their attempts to redress real or imagined wrongs. There is ample evidence in the world today that such people may even consider aerial hijackings, bombings and assassinations as justifiable means of attaining their ends. Library and Archives Canada (henceforth LAC), RG 76 Vol. 986 File 5781-3-3, Refugees-Chilean Movement. Processing of Applications, Stage B (Security) Vol. 1. Chilean Refugees- Security Screening, January 10, 1974. While other countries notably France and Sweden instituted emergency measures to expedite the immigration process for fugitives from the junta, from September to December the Canadian government insisted on sticking to the letter of the law, especially where it pertained to security clearances. Gerald E. Dirks, Canadas Refugee Policy: Indifference or Opportunism? Montreal and London: McGill-Queens University Press, 1977, p. 247-248. 4 Green Light for the Generals, NACLAs Latin America and Empire Report, Vol. VIII, No. 8, October 1973, p. 6-12. The information about the involvement of the Nixon administration and the CIA published in this article, just one month after the coup, was remarkably accurate. 5 On the one hand, there was Foreign Minister Mitchell Sharps public statement on October 5 of Canadas desire to co-operate in the movement of refugees and the abatement of personal suffering in [Chile]. Quoted in John Saywell, ed., Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974, p. 271. On the other hand, telexes between Ottawa and visa sections in Latin America made it clear that Chileans were not to be considered refugees without express permission from the Minister of Manpower and Immigration, and were to be processed as normal immigrants. LAC RG 76 Vol. 986 File 5781-1 RefugeesChilean Movement General. Telexes, Ottawa to San Jos, October 26 and November 5, 1973.

as well as free language classes in whichever of Canadas two official languages was most commonly used in the area of resettlement.6 The focus of the program would transform from the admission of immigrants to the acceptance of political prisoners over the course of its duration (1973-1978). Most of the participants in my research arrived under the provisions of the SMC as landed immigrants who were seen as ideologically non-threatening and easy to integrate into the economic life of the country. The interviews I conducted were semi-structured sessions that lasted anywhere between one and two-and-half hours. I prepared a survey with 26 questions that covered topics such as the participants professional background, political affiliation and activity, how they arrived in Canada, what kind of assistance they received and from whom, as well as asking about their memories of exile life and their treatment by Canadians. I recorded all but one of the interviews and took hand-written notes as well. In most cases, the planned questions served more as a point of departure rather than a set guideline. Based on the preliminary research I had done on Chilean exiles, I expected to discover that most of the participants had entered Canada either as recognized refugees or under the Oppressed Minority designation of the SMC. I also supposed that most would have received assistance in escaping Chile either from a foreign embassy which provided asylum, or through the domestic bodies that helped the politically persecuted find safe haven.7As the testimonies in the following section reveal, my hypotheses were incorrect. Chileans ended up in Canada between 1973 and 1978 by many different paths; there was no one road north to exile. Many arrived under their own power and at their own initiative, but received resettlement assistance from provincial governments


The United Nations defines a refugee as: [S]omeone who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. 7 The most well-known groups in Chile during the 1970s were associated with the churches. The Vicaria de la Solidaridad was run by the Archbishopric of Santiago. The Fundacin de Ayuda Social de las Iglesias Cristianas (FASIC) grouped together the non-Roman Catholic Christian denominations.

and municipalities where they made their initial homes under the auspices of the SMC. The testimonies from my research presented below illustrate the various ways by which Chileans found their way to Canada, and how they began to rebuild their lives in the safety of a new land. Canada wasnt a choice. I didnt have no option8: The exiles memories of getting in to Canada In the course the interviews, I asked the participants several questions about the process of gaining admittance to Canada to gauge how they were treated, and if the controversy surrounding their arrival had left an impression on them. Having done the bulk of my research to that point on the Chilean issue from the Canadian side, I went in to the first interviews expecting the participants to describe cold-hearted immigration officials grilling them about party affiliations and past political actions, zealous pro-UP Canadians welcoming them with open arms, and rejection from some people because of their ideological beliefs. While these kinds of experiences did occur, what surprised me was how infrequently they were mentioned, and how small a place they seemed to occupy in the collective memory of exile. One question I asked all Chilean participants was whether Canada was their first choice as a country of asylum. The responses quoted below give us an idea of how and why Canada ended up being a place of refuge, ranging from factors like the relatively open immigration policy associated with the SMC, to such basic reasons as there was no other choice, like Carlos tells us in the title of this section. As we shall see, in most cases Canada was not a desired choice but the best available alternative. For some, Canada was an option for practical


Interview by author with Carlos Torres, Toronto, October 21, 2008 (henceforth Carlos interview). Interview in English.

reasons such as knowledge of one of the official languages and the potential for employment. Previous connections to Canada were also sometimes a factor, albeit rarely. I had the opportunity, because my father was Croatian, to go to Europe, to Croatia. But the fact that I was an English teacher, that I spoke English, and that my ex-husband spoke English, made it easier to come here. I would have liked to go to Montreal, but they told me that Id have better job opportunities in Toronto than in Montreal.9 *** I chose, because I was offered asylum in the embassy of the Netherlands. So I said, at least I know a bit of English, and I was the friend of several Canadians. They called me when the coup happenedand said, with two other friends, they were going to send me the money for a ticket so I wouldnt have any problems, because I didnt want to take asylum at an embassySo thats how I left. They paid my passage, an American, an English person and her. So I came with her, and I lived the first few months in her house.10 *** J: There were few countries- it was either Canada or Australia - that still had their doors open at that time. R: Trudeau. J: Trudeau, of course. Trudeau made it a lot easier. R: Pepes English. J: So I said, OK, Ill go to Canada, because it was a culture between the British, and I went to a British schooland because I was an English teacher and everything, so I said, OK, Ill go to Canada, because its a culture between British and American. And Australia seemed to me so far away.11 *** For Jos D., like the participants above, Canada seemed to be the best option given the circumstances. Because he was not in immediate danger he didnt need to flee to an embassy and could take some time to decide where to go. Like many other participants, he didnt


Interview by author with S.V.P., Toronto, October 31, 2008 (henceforth S.V.P. interview). Interview in Spanish. All translations from Spanish to English, in this and other interviews, by the author. She requested that only her initials be used.10

Interview by author with Patricia Godoy, Toronto, October 31, 2008 (henceforth Patricia interview). Interview in Spanish. 11 Interview by author with Jos and Raquel Borgoo, Toronto, October 21, 2008 (henceforth Jos B. and Raquel interview). Interview in Spanish. Trudeau refers to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time.

know much about Canada, but he knew that it was a country of immigration, and he spoke English and French already. By the time he and his partner started the process to abandon Chile, the SMC was already in operation, which substantially sped up the process. They chose to go to Qubec City, thinking that it would be easier to adapt to life in a smaller city and because they wanted to speak French rather than English, the imperialist language associated with the United States.12 Alfredo also found the process of getting into Canada relatively painless due to the government programme: I followed the normal course of immigration, but tremendously quickly, because I got out in October [1975]. One day they contacted me, someone, and they gave me an appointment at the Canadian embassy...