US War Resisters in Canada Face Deportation and Prison: You Can Help Them

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CommonDreams.org

US War Resisters in Canada Face Deportation and Prison: You Can Help Them

by
Laura Kaminker

We all dream of peace. But what have we sacrificed to make peace a reality?

Some American men and women have risked everything to help end the Iraq War. And right now they need our help.

Hundreds of United States servicepeople have refused to participate in the US occupation of Iraq. Some of these war resisters, now "absent without leave," have gone to Canada, but Canada has not yet granted them asylum. In fact, deportation proceedings have begun against some resisters. If forced to return to the U.S., they face court martial, military prison and damaging criminal records.

We can't let this happen.

* * * *

Perhaps you wonder, as many people do, if these men and women didn't want to fight in Iraq, then why did they enlist?

Some joined the United States military because of "the poverty draft": they had no health insurance, no money for education, and very few options. Military recruiters were a permanent fixture in their high schools, peddling a seductive package of false hope and lies. For a view into the poverty draft, I highly recommend reading The Deserter's Tale, written by war resister Joshua Key and Canadian author Lawrence Hill.

Others volunteered after September 11, 2001, because they wanted to help prevent more terrorist attacks. Some resisters served in Afghanistan, but refused deployment to Iraq.

Most came from homes and communities where people didn't question the government. There were terrorists over there and we had to get them before they got us over here. That's what they were told, and they had no reason to doubt it.

Then they went to Iraq.

There, they saw for themselves that the entire pretence for the invasion and the occupation was a lie. And they saw - to their shock and horror - that in Iraq, the United States were the terrorists.

Some served out their contracts and were discharged, only to be "stop-lossed": involuntarily re-enlisted. Others came home on leave and refused to return. They didn't want to die for a lie. And they didn't want to kill.

Their actions, though moral, were illegal. In the US, they faced military prison and a "bad conduct discharge" - a felony offense - for refusing to deploy. So they left their families and friends, left their country, and went north, to Canada. Many have been ostracized from their families, who condemn them as cowards. One resister told me his mother said she'd rather he died in Iraq than shamed them by deserting.

With the help of the War Resisters Support Campaign, a coalition of activists (many of whom were Vietnam War resisters, now Canadian citizens), about 50 servicepeople have applied for refugee status to live legally in Canada. (It is thought that a few hundred additional resisters are living underground in Canada.)

Because of the current Conservative government, and the repressive post-9/11 political climate, every resister's request for asylum has been rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board. In November, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the cases of Brandon Hughey and Jeremy Hinzman, the first resisters to apply.

At that time, some US media implied that the resisters' cause had been defeated - but that is not true. It was a huge disappointment, but it was also a new beginning for the movement.

The War Resisters Support Campaign stepped up its political efforts. It determined to deploy the greatest weapon for peace that Canada possesses: the Canadian people.

Canada did not participate in the invasion of Iraq, and the huge majority of Canadians oppose the Iraq War. Unlike in the US, Canadian representatives actually listen and respond to their constituents! The Support Campaign has been urging Canadians to contact their Members of Parliament with one message: Let Them Stay.

The Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not sympathetic to the war resisters - but it is a minority government. This means the united opposition - the Liberals, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois - outnumber the Conservatives. The Campaign proposed that a resolution be passed in the House of Commons allowing US war resisters to remain legally in Canada.

The NDP quickly advanced the resolution and the Bloc added its support. But, although many Liberal Members of Parliament personally support the resisters, the Liberal Party has not officially supported the resolution.

In December - thanks to the Campaign's persistent lobbying efforts, and members of the three opposition parties working together - the Committee on Immigration recommended that the resolution be passed. It was a huge victory.

Now the resolution has been introduced in the House of Commons; a united opposition is needed to pass it. If the NDP, Bloc and Liberals all vote in favour of the resolution, the Conservative government is not actually obligated to implement it, but it would be an unprecedented breach of trust - not to mention democracy - if they did not.

Support campaign organizers believe they are very close to getting the resolution passed - but they don't have much time. Deportation proceedings have already begun against four resisters, including two families with young children. Will the House of Commons pass the resolution before any war resisters are deported?

* * * *

In discussing this issue with supposedly progressive Americans, I was shocked - and frankly disgusted - to learn that some people who oppose the war in Iraq do not support the war resisters' cause. Their argument: "If they didn't join in the first place, there wouldn't be a war!"

This strikes me as both extremely naíve and horribly selfish.

Many of us were fortunate to grow up in homes where questioning authority was encouraged, where dissent and protest were a way of life - not to mention in families that could afford higher education and health care. If you cannot imagine what kind of background might lead someone to enlist in the US military, I again recommend The Deserter's Tale.

But even if we never would have made such a choice, do we want to see people who have experienced such a radical change of mind punished for their beliefs? Isn't this the very change of heart that we wish to instill in others? And most importantly, should a person be imprisoned for refusing to kill?

Many of us always knew the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with stopping terrorism or spreading democracy. If the war resisters have come to this truth a little later, they have done so at a much greater price. If we are truly people of peace, it is our moral obligation to stand beside people who have risked everything to help end this war.

In the US, On Friday, January 25, Americans will demonstrate in front of Canadian consulates in six cities. The effort is spearheaded by Courage To Resist and joined by Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War and the thousands of local peace groups that belong to United for Peace and Justice. You can join demonstrations in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Minneapolis. (Details at http://couragetoresist.org.)

In Canada, Saturday, January 26, is a Pan-Canadian Day of Action in support of war resisters. Events will be held in 12 cities, where Canadians will write letters demanding that the resolution be passed.

Everyone can write letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. This is a crucial part of the campaign. See Courage To Resist's "Dear Canada" campaign (couragetoresist.org) or the War Resisters Support Campaign (resisters.ca).

By the time the Canadian Parliament resumes on January 29, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion will have received hundreds, maybe thousands, of letters, all demanding one thing: Let Them Stay.

During the Vietnam War, at least 50,000 - possibly as many as 80,000 - Americans went to Canada to escape the draft or because they did not want to live in a country that would perpetrate such an immoral, needless war. What many people don't know is that Canada did not immediately allow the Vietnam resisters to stay. The Canadian peace movement campaigned on behalf of the resisters and pressured their government to do the right thing. Finally, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, "Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

Once again, Canadians are calling on Canada to be a refuge from militarism. You can help make this happen.

Laura Kaminker, a writer, moved from the United States to Canada for political reasons. She now works with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. She writes the blog we move to canada.

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