This article was written earlier in the week by Mike Ferner , the author of 'Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq,' and the president of Veterans for Peace (VFP).
April 1, 2009
April 1, 2009
Two days ago, for the second time in 10 months,
Canada's House of Commons told Prime Minister Stephen
Harper and his Conservative government, including
Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, to stop deporting
U.S. soldiers resisting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The vote united the three opposition parties, the
Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic
Party in a close 129-125 vote.
Last week, the War Resisters Support Campaign rallied
for former Army soldier, Kimberly Rivera, the first
female U.S. soldier to go to Canada. Nearly 100 people
filled the chairs and lined the aisles at the
Steelworkers hall in Toronto for Rivera, her husband
and three children, the youngest born in Canada six
The morning after the March 25 rally, Rivera was due to
be deported back to the U.S. to face an Army court
martial, but Federal Judge James Russell agreed with
Rivera's argument that resisters who speak out against
the war publicly in Canada receive harsher sentences,
and granted her a temporary stay.
'This was the fifth time that the court ruled that Iraq
war resisters face harsher punishment if they're sent
back to the U.S.,' said Michelle Robidoux, spokesperson
for the Toronto-based support campaign. 'The courts
have spoken, Parliament has spoken and Canadians have
made their views clear. These conscientious objectors
should not be sent back to the United States to face
jail time for opposing the Iraq War.'
Several other resisters were at the Steelworkers hall
to support Rivera and her family, including Jeremy
Hinzman, the first U.S. serviceperson to go to Canada
during this war, Phil McDowell and his wife Jamine,
Chuck Wylie, Dale Landry, Ryan Johnson and three others
who did not want their names mentioned.
At that rally, MP Olivia Chow, NDP Immigration Critic,
announced that the following day she would introduce a
resolution in the House of Commons restating
Parliament's position from last June. That measure as
well as the most recent one, are non-binding
resolutions the Harper government does not have to
legally obey. However, to give an idea how much public
support is behind letting war resisters stay in Canada,
campaign organizers feared Chow's surprise announcement
might lose the votes of some Liberal MPs who did not
appreciate the NDP grabbing the limelight on the issue.
In a poll conducted last year gained by Angus Reid
Strategies, 64% of all Canadians said resisters should
be allowed to stay. The poll results were reported in
the same issue of the Truro Daily News that carried a
story on Dick Cotterill, who enlisted in the Marine
Corps, decided he was opposed to the Viet Nam war and
went to Nova Scotia in 1972.
Cotterill now owns his own business and has a son in
the Canadian Air Force. When asked how he felt about
the current generation of young war resisters, he said,
'Every soldier has the responsibility to refuse to obey
orders that are illegal, unjust and immoral.'
That sentiment was echoed several times at the rally
for Rivera last week. Two local clergy members spoke
in support, saying resisters have a right to refuse to
serve in an illegal war. One even said he welcomed
these young men and women and called them, 'the kind of
people Canada needs.'
The morning after the rally, when Rivera would have
been deported, save for Judge Russell's reprieve,
Robidoux let a late-morning breakfast go cold as she
furiously called fellow campaigners and texted Members
of Parliament on the floor of the House debating Chow's
motion. Not long after the resolution's introduction,
Conservatives moved to end discussion which would
effectively kill the measure.
Reading one incoming text message, she exclaimed, 'Ha!
This is the new Tory line: 'We don't need this
legislation, Obama will save them (resisters).''
Commenting on the non-binding nature of the resolution,
Robidoux said, 'I think we're going to win or lose the
fight in the next six months. Unless there is a change
in the government we'll not win the political solution.
We need a change in the regulations. The Conservative
government can be pushed on a case-by-case basis, (to
let resisters stay) but that's a real long shot.'
Asked why this issue is so important to Canadians that
they would make a significant effort to organize
support, Robidoux replied, 'The history we had during
the Vietnam War is the foundation of today's War
Resisters Support Campaign. People my age had contact
with draft resisters. I remember when I was eight
years old and there were a few of them living in the
house next door. I thought they were cool.'
She described how sheltering resisters during that war
became part of the Canadian culture.
'The announcer of the most popular radio program on CBC
came here during that war. There's a well-known beer
in British Columbia called 'Draught Dodger.' The
president of the Steelworkers local here was a
resister. Artists, activists, the co-founder of
Greenpeace'nobody wants to lose that history and those
contributions. It's more than just being against war.
It's the right to conscience. What's happened now is
that the Tories are sick of that history; they don't
want to hear any more about it.'
A second reason, Robidoux said, is the Iraq War itself.
'It's simple. It's wrong. You don't need a political
science degree to understand that. Opposition to it
has increased every year.' Illustrating her point, she
noted that on February 15, 2003, as part of protests
around the globe to oppose the invasion of Iraq,
Canadians turned out in massive numbers. 'There were
80,000 people in the streets of Toronto, 250,000 in
Montreal, many thousands in Quebec'even 7,000 in the
little city of Victoria (BC).'
She finally paused and took a deep breath. 'Since May
of '08 there's been no down time. I'm not
exaggerating 'it's just running flat out.' After that
momentary pause, Robidoux returned to how the current
sanctuary movement for resisters came about.
'It's important Americans learn of our relationship
with the U.S. peace movement. If it wasn't for MFSO
(Military Families Speak Out), we probably wouldn't
have gotten off the ground. We met Nancy (Lessin) and
Charlie (Richardson) (cofounders of MFSO), at an early
demonstration in Washington. I noticed this couple
wearing Steelworkers' jackets and went up to talk with
them. We had them come to Toronto in February '04 to
speak and I had seen an article on Jeremy Hinzman, the
first U.S. soldier to come to Canada. Nancy and
Charlie knew he was staying with some Quakers, so we
were able to find him. Then Brandon Hughes came two or
three months later via the Quakers, and we decided in
May '04 to launch the War Resisters Support Campaign.'
The wiry 47 year-old refuted the argument that U.S.
soldiers are no longer drafted and therefore don't
qualify for sanctuary in Canada.
'There's the whole 'compulsion' argument. You've got
'Stop-Loss' which the military uses to keep soldiers on
active duty, the 'Individual Ready Reserve' that
reactivates them any time during an eight year period
even if they've served their four year contract, also
the early National Guard call-ups and that's not even
talking about the economy.'
Robidoux said the campaign will now concentrate on
getting a 'Private Member's' bill introduced that, if
it passes, will have the force of law to stop
deportation of resisters. 'Of course these Tories
could still decide to ignore it, which they have with
other legislation that has been passed,' she said
Recognizing the substantial number of calls to Canadian officials U.S. peace activists have made to support the resolutions and urge compliance, Robidoux said the most important thing people south of the border can do is 'build links with resisters who are here, maybe 'adopting' a resister, and helping to build awareness of their situation among Americans and American media. It will be up to us in Canada to win it here among our politicians.'