Canada Lawmakers Ask Harper to Let War Resisters Stay (Update1)
By Greg Quinn
June 3 (Bloomberg)
Canadian lawmakers passed a non- binding resolution aimed at pressuring the government to freeze deportations of U.S. soldiers who fled to Canada after refusing to fight in the war in Iraq.
Opposition parties with a majority of seats in Parliament asked the government to allow “conscientious objectors'' to wars not sanctioned by the United Nations, such as the Iraq conflict, to apply for permanent resident status. The resolution urges the Conservative Party government to stop deportations ordered by immigration tribunals. The motion passed by 137 to 110, with the Conservatives voting against.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came to power in 2006 promising improved relations with the U.S., hasn't tried to overturn any tribunal decisions ordering U.S. resisters deported. The vote conjures up controversial images from the Vietnam War era, when Canada took in thousands of Americans seeking to avoid being drafted or serving when called.
“Let's hope that public pressure ultimately produces change in policy by the government,'' New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton told reporters yesterday outside Parliament.
So far, fewer than 40 Americans have claimed refugee status in Canada because they object to fighting in the Iraq War, according to Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Canada's immigration department in Ottawa. The five people who agreed to release details of their cases were denied, she said.
Canadian law requires refugee claimants to demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution'' such as torture or death should they be sent back to their home countries, Norris said. Officials also rely on a UN handbook that says they should consider whether soldiers were drafted into service or volunteered, as in the case of Iraq, she said.
The U.S. Army's maximum penalty for desertion is five years in confinement, dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and benefits, according to information e-mailed by Maj. Nathan Banks, an army spokesman in Washington.
Banks declined to comment on the Canadian motion. The U.S. embassy in Ottawa referred a telephone call seeking comment to the military.
The Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates there are as many as 200 American Iraq war resisters in Canada. According to a May 22 report in the Toronto Star, 25-year-old Corey Glass is the lone resister ordered deported whose departure has been scheduled.
Canada's 2003 Decision
Former Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2003 refused to send troops to join the war in Iraq because the invasion wasn't backed by the UN, breaking with the U.S. and U.K., traditionally Canada's closest allies. Another Liberal prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, welcomed Vietnam War objectors after his predecessor Lester B. Pearson failed to persuade the U.S. to find a mediated settlement to the conflict.
Canada took in between 50,000 and 80,000 Americans during the war in Southeast Asia, according to the War Resisters Support Campaign. Canada's immigration department didn't have figures immediately available on that era.
“We have been undertaking political action and public mobilization in order to get a political solution to the problem, and that's what the vote is about,'' said Lee Zaslofsky, national coordinator for the war resisters' group. Before the vote, he said it would be “a very big breakthrough for the campaign and the war resisters if the elected representatives of the Canadian people speak on their behalf.''
Zaslofsky, 63, came to Canada from the U.S. in 1970 and sought permanent resident status, after finishing military training in South Carolina and being ordered to report for duty in Vietnam.
“You could apply right at the border,'' he said, adding that the paperwork took just 45 minutes. “It was surprisingly easy.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Quinn in Ottawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: June 3, 2008 16:12 EDT