The secret to convincingly sporting a Don Cherry thrift-store cast-off blazer and vintage 80s Pac Man lunchbox in an expensive hotel lobby is grabbing the complimentary National Post. Casually sit back and enjoy the paper, but not too much. Avoid giggling, since this is a dead giveaway that you don't belong. Works for me every time.
I'm here in the Sutton Place Hotel waiting for Tom Hayden, recovering politician, author and radical activist dating back some 45 years. Suddenly, he arrives, not dressed to impress either, in rumpled, faded blue jeans, hanging green sweater and unlaced sneakers. Later, he'll clean up with a blue suit and shower before meeting his glamorous ex-wife, Jane Fonda, at her book-signing. Then it's over to U of T to address a rally in support of deserting U.S. soldiers.
But Fonda's not the only tête-à-tête on Hayden's daytimer. He's also met with the NDP and the Bloc to offer them a strategy to win refuge for the estimated 100 GIs secretly hiding on Canuck turf. "I'm absolutely convinced we gave them a solution to avoid sending them back," he excitedly reports.
"We want a response from the Canadian government that is appropriate to the level of crisis," he told them. "For instance, you have nannies who were given special status. You have at least one well-known Eastern European athlete who was given special status. Why not special status for war resisters? Give them two or three years to see how things go, and then decide if they need to be integrated into Canadian society.
"How would Canadians feel when these guys are sent back to a minimum of five years in a penitentiary?" he asks between mouthfuls of beef soup in the hotel dining room. "That has to be looked at down the road, and the death penalty is on the books. I just think somebody should do a street survey of Canadians," he says, scanning the passing crowd on Wellesley.
"I'd be willing to bet that the majority would oppose collaborating with Bush by sending back soldiers."
The former California senator does not believe Canada will experience Vietnam-like draft-dodging numbers, so this matter will be easier to manage than the crisis faced by PM Pierre Trudeau. "There's a sanctuary movement in the States. It's not like everyone is running up here. There are some very brave people in the U.S., too. I met with Pablo Paredes, who refused to board his naval ship; he's facing time. He's going to play out his drama down there. Camilo Mejia has already served time. There's a movement gaining its own momentum. Canada is one part of it."
Moreover, the process of tossing "the boys," he says, could take longer than the war lasts. "Bush's goal is to get Iraq off television, pull Americans back to the bases and put the Iraqis out front. I don't know if that is going to work. Why Iraqis would choose to kill each other us unclear to me. I think they will choose to negotiate with each other."
He makes a similar point later to a packed meeting of 200 at Innis Town Hall, where he's flanked by AWOL GIs Jeremy Hinzman and Josh Key. Also sharing the stage is Nancy Lessin from Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), who opens the discussion by reading e-mails from wives confessing to desperate thoughts of nudging hubby down the stairs to obtain a disability discharge.
Formed in November 2002, MSFO represents the families of those serving in Iraq who feel they have been betrayed not just by war propaganda but also by the Pentagon's failed contractual obligations to release reservists when their time is up. According to the org, the U.S. Department of Defense needs to re-up experienced soldiers, but the Pentagon is encountering fierce battles at the kitchen table and in the bedroom. Officers being forced to re-enlist are squaring off against their spouses' sense, sensitivity and sensuality.
Confronted with few options, AWOL families have taken on the nomadic life of living in motels and working for cash, sometimes aided by the sanctuary movement in the U.S. Life on the lam for a single guy is daunting, but four children and a partner have added more challenges for Oklahoma deserter Key. "We can start living a normal life again," he says of his trip north. "We have amazing support here."
The Hinzman negative refugee ruling hasn't stopped Key from applying for work permits in Canada, enrolling his children in school and moving into a permanent residence. His refugee claim is wholly unique, in that he fought in Fallujah and Ramadi.
Key was for the war before shipping out, pumped on patriotism and WMD propaganda. Then he confronted the reality. "I was part of an invasion force in another country. I participated in raids on 100 homes and didn't find any WMD. During the raids, we blew down doors with C4, zip-cuffed all the men and stuck them in the back of a truck," he tells me after the grand finale of the evening, a plea from MFSO co-founder Charley Richardson.
"We implore you," he says, "to make a promise to stop the war. But until then, please allow these boys to stay. Just let them stay here."