WASHINGTON -- About 50 American veterans of the Iraq War and other demonstrators gathered at the Canadian Embassy in Washington yesterday to demand that the Canadian government allow hundreds of U.S. resisters to the Iraq conflict to remain in Canada.
The protesters presented a letter addressed to Ambassador Michael Wilson to an embassy representative. The letter asks the Canadian government not to allow the deportation of American soldiers who have fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq.
Geoff Maillard, president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said the group was able to hand over both the letter and a supporting petition containing thousands of names.
Maillard said the Canadian government requires the U.S. soldiers who have to fled to Canada to go through a refugee process, but the refugee board refuses to consider the question of whether or not the Iraq war is legal.
He said that argument is central to the war resisters' claim that they are fleeing a conflict that "clearly violates" international law against wars of aggression.
"These war resisters are leaving the U.S. not because they're afraid to fight in a war, but because their consciences will not allow them to fight in a war that clearly violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Accord," Maillard said.
"The fact is that these young men and women are bravely standing up for international law and they are being rebuffed at every turn."
In November, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear appeals from Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, who sought refugee status on the grounds of their opposition to the war in Iraq.
But last month the Commons committee on citizenship and immigration adopted a motion that the government implement a program to allow American war resisters and their families to stay in Canada.
Now groups such as the Oakland, Calif.-based Courage to Resist, which organized the Washington protest and eight similar demonstrations elsewhere in the U.S. yesterday, want the full Commons to consider the matter when it resumes next month.
Max Diorio, an organizer for Courage to Resist, said, "Our message is: 'Dear Canada - let our war resisters stay.'"
"We believe that these war resisters should be allowed a safe haven from persecution on the basis of resisting an illegal and immoral war and occupation," Diorio said.
In Canada, Lee Zaslofsky, a spokesman for a group called the War Resisters Support Campaign, said it has organized rallies and other events for today in several cities.
© 2008 Canadian Press