Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This alert, was posted to the Let Them Stay Campaign Facebook page, August 6, 2009
Iraq war resister Rodney Watson has been ORDERED to LEAVE CANADA by AUGUST 10, 2009.
Full Story: A U.S. Iraq War veteran and war resister who has been living in Vancouver since 2007 has been told to leave Canada by August 10 or face removal.
RICHMOND BC DEMO TODAY: 9:00 a.m. PDT Unit 360, 5951 No. 3 Road Richmond, BCTORONTO DEMO TOMORROW: On Friday, August 7, 4:30 p.m., northwest corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West.
Rodney Watson is a veteran of the Iraq War. After seeing the way Iraqi civilians were being treated by the US, he refused a second deployment, choosing to come to Canada instead. Watson now has a Canadian-born son, and seeks only to live in peace in his new home.
In June 2009, the Immigration Critics from all three opposition parties wrote to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney, calling on him to honour the will of Parliament and “not to use the Parliamentary recess to disregard the expressed will of the House of Commons with respect to the fair treatment of Iraq War resisters in Canada”. A majority of Members of Parliament voted twice to allow U.S. war resisters to remain in Canada, first in June 2008, then again in March 2009.
Despite this very clear mandate, Minister Kenney and the Harper Government continue to deport Iraq War resisters. Several war resisters already have been deported to the U.S., where two have been court martialed and imprisoned. In addition to Watson, several other war resisters in Canada live under threat of deportation, including Kimberly Rivera, Jeremy Hinzman and Patrick Hart. All are parents of young children.
In January, Minister Kenney publicly denounced U.S. war resisters as “bogus refugee claimants,” revealing the government’s blanket opposition to what is supposed to be an impartial process. The Minister’s blatantly prejudicial comments were promptly denounced by Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The following profiles, by Maggie Gilmour, were posted to Toronto Life, July 2009
To avoid serving in Iraq, 300 American soldiers have left their homes and families and fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the federal government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding; others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. In the meantime, they’ve put down roots, taking temp jobs and raising children, nostalgic for a time when Canada was a haven for conscientious objectors.
PHIL MCDOWELL, 29
HOMETOWN: Warwick, Rhode Island
ARRIVED: October 14, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, appealing to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for protected person status
I went to a small college in Poughkeepsie, New York. After 9/11, I wanted to do something useful to defend my country. I graduated with a degree in IT and joined the army a month later. I believed, we all believed, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I went to Iraq in February 2004, and when we first drove into Baghdad you could taste burning tires and garbage in the air. My job was to set up communications networks at bases. One day I saw Donald Rumsfeld on TV saying that we were no longer looking for weapons of mass destruction. I thought, Then what the hell are we doing here? My commanding officer told us we were spreading democracy and freedom. I got suspicious and ordered books off Amazon: Bush at War by Bob Woodward, The 9/11 Commission Report, American Soldier by Tommy Franks. We had been lied to, and we did so many things wrong in Iraq. When we held detainees at our base, they’d be put out in the sun for hours at a time, hands zip-cuffed, hoods on their heads.
My tour ended in February 2005. I got home and spent time with my girlfriend, Jamine. By June 2006, I’d fulfilled my four-year contract, and I was done. I was so happy to be out, and I started a five‑month hike on the Appalachian Trail. When I was in New Hampshire, I got the call that I’d been stop-lossed and had to report back to base to deploy for another 15 months. I told my commanding officer I didn’t support the war and asked if there was something else I could do in the army to avoid going back to Iraq. He said no. I called my congressman and my senator’s office; I called a civilian military officer and a lawyer. They all said, “There is nothing you can do. You have to report back.” I couldn’t continue to serve in a war that I was morally opposed to, so I picked up clothes from my parents’ house and drove north.
At first I lived with a Toronto family who belong to a group of war resisters; then I got my own apartment at Broadview and Danforth. Jamine joined me in November 2006, after we got married. Jamine plays lacrosse, and she’s coaching at U of T. I have a work permit and install solar thermal heating systems. If things work out and I get a visa, I’d like to keep working in my field; the new Ontario Green Energy Act has created a lot of interest. One day when we met officials about our refugee application, there were people from Zimbabwe in the waiting room who had probably fled their own wars. We showed up in our Ralph Lauren shirts—people laughed at us.
PATRICK HART, 35
HOMETOWN: New Bedford, Massachusetts
ARRIVED: August 20, 2005
STATUS: Refugee application denied, deportation order postponed
I decided to join the army in 1992, after graduating from high school by the skin of my teeth. I served for three years in Germany as a warehouse guy, operating a forklift. I left at the end of that tour, thinking that with my military record I’d be able to get a job. I made tacos, did construction work and got laid off from a job at a steel factory. I married my wife, Jill, in March 2000 and rejoined the army that year because I needed an income to start a family. For the first three years, I worked in the motor pool at my base in Fort Riley, Kansas, and it was nine-to-five, pretty relaxed. My son, Rian, was born in 2002, and a year later I was sent to Kuwait to do maintenance on all the trucks and machines. There was a lot of just sitting around, shooting the shit. When we found out there were no weapons of mass destruction, I felt like I was putting my life on the line for nothing. I returned to the U.S. in March 2004 and told Jill that I wanted to leave the army, but she convinced me to stay for the health care, since our son has epilepsy. We argued about it a lot, but I couldn’t convince her, and I decided to leave without telling her. I knew that if I’d told her I was deserting, she would have turned me in and I would have gone to jail.
I left for Canada in August 2005; my parents drove me over the border. We told the border guard we were going to the CNE. When the army found out I had left, they sent military police to look for me at our home on the base. They ransacked the place in the middle of the night, looking for signs I was still living there. They went into Rian’s room and turned the light on and dumped all the dresser drawers out on the floor. They scared Jill pretty badly. I think she realized then that they were the bad guys, and she and Rian joined me in Canada a month later. We moved into a co-op near the lake. When I first arrived, I worked for a while at Lula Lounge running food and helping out at the bar, but my work permit ended. I keep busy by playing in a Misfits tribute band; we sometimes perform at the Bovine and the Rivoli.
When you apply for refugee status, you have to meet with a border services agent who asks if you’ll leave if you’re ordered deported. My lawyer told me that if you waver, if it seems like you are lying, or if you’re dumb enough to say no, they take you into custody at that moment and keep you in a hotel room near the office. So I said yes. My mother and father always say, “We’d rather visit you in Canada than at the cemetery.” My wife once asked my commanding officer what happens to soldiers who go AWOL. He said, “We put them on guard duty in Iraq with no ammo in their weapon, no plates in their bulletproof jacket, and just see what happens.”
CHUCK WILEY, 37
HOMETOWN: Frankfort, Kentucky
ARRIVED: February 11, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, applied for consideration on compassionate grounds to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration
The military is a big deal in my family. Of my father’s eight siblings, seven went into the military. My dad was immensely proud of me when I started basic training after Grade 11. I went in first as a classified communications electronics technician, which is a fancy name for someone who fixes radios. I did that in Louisville for three years, then signed on for full-time active duty in the navy; I maintained and operated nuclear reactors on ships. In 2004, I was assigned to serve on the USS Enterprise, where the planes rest between bombing missions. We were situated near the Persian Gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz. The summer of 2006, I asked one of my buddies in weapons why our F‑18s were returning covered in bullet holes, and he told me how the army was surrounding areas with suspected insurgents at dawn and flying F-18s right over the heads of the villagers to create as much chaos and fear as possible. Whoever fled was deemed a “person of interest” and rounded up. The fourth Geneva Convention details the treatment of civilians. It says you need to protect them from conflict, and you can’t treat all civilians as if they are the enemy—but that’s what we were doing. When I complained about it, I was told to just follow orders and not ask questions.
In mid-October 2006, we turned around and headed home to Norfolk, Virginia. I asked to be put on a ship going to any mission other than the Middle East. Instead, I was ordered to serve on the George Washington, which was headed for Iraq in four months. I spoke to a lawyer, who told me I had to report for duty or go to jail. Instead, I left for Canada.
I now live in a basement apartment at Donlands and Danforth and have a job maintaining the heating and cooling systems at a private school near Yonge and St. Clair. After nuclear reactors, it’s pretty easy. I’ve been giving anti-war talks at Ryerson, Queen’s and the University of Waterloo. I had never experienced cultural diversity until I moved here. Most Americans in small towns have never met a Muslim. Here, I have a Muslim colleague who works in IT. When you’ve met Muslims, worked with them, got into serious conversations with them, it’s a hell of a lot harder to follow orders to kill them.
DEAN WALCOTT, 27
HOMETOWN: Saratoga, New York
ARRIVED: December 6, 2006
STATUS: Refugee application denied, waiting to be granted a judicial review of his deportation order
I joined the marines in 2000 to put some discipline in me. My parents didn’t like it, but they weren’t too worried: 9/11 hadn’t happened, so no one thought I’d go to war. At basic training, they beat the shit out of you, fist in the face, kick you in the gut, throw you up against walls. My first posting was in Okinawa, Japan. I repaired electronics, sang karaoke, and drank a lot of Habu sake, a crazy drink made with snake venom.
In 2003, they sent me to Iraq to be a gunner. We’d travel in convoys down the road, from one base to another. I sat in the turret of a Humvee with a machine gun, looking out for the enemy. In a border town called Safwan, we saw some kids who had been beaten up by British and American soldiers. They had slogans written on their foreheads in black permanent marker: “terrorist in training” and “camel jockey.” A year after my tour in Iraq, I was sent to an army hospital in Stuttgart, where I processed paperwork for injured soldiers. Some of them were missing all of their limbs; some had survived being set on fire but were a red and black mass that looked nothing like a human being, families standing around their beds screaming and crying. We did whatever we could for the soldiers—got them a pizza or an Adam Sandler movie, whatever they asked for. I was sent back to Iraq again and stayed there until March 2006. When I returned to the U.S., I couldn’t sleep because of my nightmares. When I’d talk to the guys in my unit, they would just say, ”Shut up, you’re a wimp, stop whining.” I became a recluse and spent all my time chatting with my rabbit, Lunchbox, who I’d bought at a mall.
One night, I typed “war” and “get out” into Google and found a war resisters Web site. I dropped Lunchbox off with a friend, got on a Greyhound bus and came north. Now I live in Parkdale with two other resisters and have a temporary work permit for my job at Reboot, a non-profit that repairs donated used computers and gives them to low-income families. I go to Galaxy Donuts for coffee and have beer with my friends at the Cadillac Lounge. I like it here; there is an attitude of live-and-let-live. I’m still in touch with my parents through e‑mail, and they’re proud of my decision.
KIMBERLY RIVERA, 27
HOMETOWN: Mesquite, Texas
ARRIVED: February 18, 2007
STATUS: Refugee application denied, judicial review of her deportation order is scheduled for July
Army recruiters called my house 20 times when I was in high school, and I knew that the only way I’d be able to afford an education was if I joined. My sign-up bonus would be $8,000, and my college and health care would be covered. I was 17 when I joined the reserves. Five months into my training, I discovered I was pregnant. They gave me an honourable discharge, and I moved in with my boyfriend, Mario. We had our first child, Christian, then our second, Rebecca. We had no health insurance, and the stress made me a terrible person: I threw shoes at my husband, threw the TV off the balcony. In January 2006, I rejoined the army. Mario and I got married that same month.
That October, my unit left for Iraq, and I spent three months patting down civilians as a gate guard. Most of my fellow soldiers treated me like a sister, but not all of them. Some of them would hound me: “You look so fine, I want to get with you.” It was the most attention I’d had in my whole life. When I got back to Mesquite from Iraq, I realized how much I missed Mario and how badly I wanted out of the army—it was too hard on our relationship. We left Texas in January 2007 and drove north. By the time we got to Kansas City, I was having second thoughts. I wrote out a pros and cons list. If I left, I’d lose my furniture, which was at the base in Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, and my salary—$1,200 every two weeks. If I went back to Iraq, my marriage wouldn’t survive, and I’d lose my peace of mind.
We crossed at the Rainbow Bridge, said we were going shopping, and the guards waved us through. For three months, we lived with a family in Oakville who had volunteered to house resisters. That April, we moved to a one-bedroom apartment at King and Jameson. For nine months, I worked at Cobs Bread in Kensington; then I had my third kid, Katie. Mario took a course to operate a forklift, but neither of us has a work permit. We sit around waiting for the government to decide what to do with us—they put a stay on my deportation order this past March. When we first arrived in Canada, I still felt paranoid and unhappy—like I was back in Iraq. Now it’s our home.
This article, by Tiffany Crawford, was published by Canwest News Service, January 6, 2009.
OTTAWA - An American war resister, who was told he must leave Canada Tuesday or face deportation to the United States, will not have to vacate the country until at least the end of January, says a support group.
Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, said Dean Walcott's case has been held over until Jan. 30.
Other U.S. resisters facing possible deportation include Cliff Cornell, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, Matt Lowell and Kimberly Rivera - and their families.
Some of the resisters have applied to the Federal Court to have their cases overturned on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
``If the Federal Court agrees to a judicial review of these resister's cases, that could be very positive,'' said Robidoux.
The Federal Court previously agreed to hear two of the cases, said Lee Zaslofsky, co-ordinator of the support group. Glass has been granted a new application to stay on humanitarian grounds while Hinzman and his family will go before the court Feb. 10.
``I'm hoping the Federal Court will be positive in Jermemy Hinzman's case and if not set a precedent, then at least give guidance on other cases that are pending, as well,'' said Zaslofsky.
``My feeling is it would be a travesty if people were deported only to find out, in Jeremy Hinzman's case, the court overturns the decisions . . . and the government threw them out anyway.''
Rivera, who was the first woman to refuse to serve after being deployed to Iraq, will face a decision on her deportation order Wednesday.
Rivera gave birth Nov. 23, said Robidoux, and will go before the board on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
``So if she is deported and jailed, she will be separated from her newborn and she has two other young children,'' said Robidoux.
Cornell, who was ordered to leave Canada by Dec. 24, or face deportation, also had his case held over until Jan. 22.
Cornell, 28, is originally from Arkansas but lives on Gabriola Island, near Nanaimo, B.C. He has been in Canada since January 2005 after refusing deployment to the Iraq war.
Another American, Christopher Teske, also living in B.C., will have a decision heard Jan. 20.
Lowell is waiting to hear whether his appeal will be heard.
This is a partial calendar, because how much much happens is up to you: people of peace all over Canada will make this week a success by becoming involved.
Please pledge to do one thing, every day, to support war resisters in Canada. A phone call to your MP. A letter to a local newspaper. An hour of leafletting outside a local event (Obama's inauguration might provide you with one). An email to all your contacts. One action, every day.
* * * *
Key upcoming dates include:
Jan 20: Removal date for Chris Teske
Jan 22: Removal date for Cliff Cornell
Jan. 26: Parliament resumes
Jan. 27: Removal date for the Rivera family (with 3 children, including an infant)
Jan 29: Removal date for the Hart family (with a child)
Jan. 30: Removal date for Dean Walcott
Feb. 10: Judicial review in Jeremy Hinzman's case
March 13: new IRB hearing for Joshua Key
March 18: Judicial review in Matt Lowell's case
The court dates in February and March may bring good news for our cause, so it's no coincidence that the Harper Government is trying to rush war resisters out of the country before then. If deported to the US, the war resisters face court martial, prison time and dishonourable discharges, the equivalent of a felony offence.
On June 3, 2008, Parliament passed a motion calling on the Government to cease all deportation proceedings against war resisters and allow them to stay in Canada. The Harper Government continues to flout democracy by ignoring the motion.
In response to this crisis, we are launching "Let Them Stay Week", January 19-26, a national week of actions to show the broad Canadian support to let war resisters stay.
As we mobilize support across Canada, I hope you will consider what you can do to help.
Monday, January 19: Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper of choice. When papers get enough letters on one topic, they're likely - even obligated - to print one or more.
2. Tuesday, January 20: Leaflet a local event. See the War Resisters Support Campaign site for a leaflet, make your own, or email me. The Obama Inauguration may provide you with a local event. If not, stand in front of a subway or commuter rail stop at rush hour.
3. Wednesday, January 21: In Toronto, we'll hold a press conference featuring war resister families and many prominent Canadians, including supportive MPs.
That evening, there'll be an event in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, home to the Rivera family, Dean Walcott, Dale Landry, Ryan Johnson and other resisters live. This is a neighbourhood event organized by the community itself - mothers from Kim's day-care, people she knows through the local health centre, her son's school - working Canadians, many of whom are also immigrants. I'll post details as I have them.
If you want to plan a small solidarity event in your community, this might be the night to do it.
Thursday, January 22, will be a national call-in day focusing on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney & Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Friday, January 23 will be a day to call or drop by your local MP's office to ask what they are doing to support resisters.
The War Resisters Support Campaign encourages people of peace throughout Canada to use the framework of "Let them Stay Week" to be creative and organize local events in support of war resisters.
Any group you belong to - faith, peace, labour, LGBT, environment - can get involved. Please send this information to your membership and invite them to act.
Supporting resistance to war is a concrete way of supporting peace. And giving refuge to military resisters speaks to the kind of society we want Canada to be.
We are also collecting signatures of prominent Canadians for an open letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. If you have any leads in this regard, please get in touch with me.
This article, by Lou Michael, was published in the Buffalo News, April 20 2008
Deserters seek residency in Canada
Patrick Hart once vowed to protect his country with his life.
Now he is in another country, pledging allegiance to that nation and waiting to learn whether he will be allowed to stay.
Hart is among 200 U.S. military deserters in Canada, and they should know in a few weeks if they can begin the process of seeking permanent residency there.
“This is home for me now,” said Hart, 34, a Buffalo native who lives in the Toronto area with his wife and their young son. “I love Canada. A lot of us have been here a few years and planted roots.”
The Canadian House of Commons is expected to vote soon on a resolution that would allow him and the other deserters to seek residency there. It’s considered a last resort — a political solution — because the Canadian courts have determined they lack the jurisdiction to rule on deserters’ claims that the war in Iraq is illegal and makes them eligible for asylum as refugees.
Hart says he went AWOL because the Iraq War was based on lies and that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
“I understand that I volunteered for this and part of my oath was to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But what do you do if your enemy is domestic in the Bush regime?” said Hart, who grew up in Riverside. Not-so-warm welcome
And while he and the others want to stay in Canada, the official stance from the Canadian government’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration is not all that welcoming.
“A separate immigration program for this group of applicants is not necessary nor warranted. Our immigration and refugee system is both generous and fair, and we encourage the use of existing channels by all those who wish to come to Canada,” said Karen Shadd, a department spokeswoman.
She added that the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board has determined that the deserters have not proven they are in need of Canada’s protection.
“The board has to be satisfied that the claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution or that he or she, if removed, would be subjected to a danger of torture or risk to life or of cruel and unusual treatment and punishment,” Shadd said.
Despite that official stance, the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto believes there is a good chance that parliament will pass the resolution, which is expected to be voted on at the end of the month or in early May.
“I think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government realizes that most Canadians support U.S. soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq. I may be dreaming in color, but they have nothing to gain by deporting U.S. war resisters,” said Michelle Robidoux, a campaign spokeswoman. Veterans unhappy
Jeffry A. House, a Toronto lawyer representing about 35 Americans seeking residency, explained that Harper’s administration will be in an awkward situation if the resolution passes and is ignored by the prime minister.
“If the House of Commons passes this resolution, it will be extremely important. The idea is the government still controls policy. But historically, if a House of Commons majority says we think this should be done, it will be extremely contrary to tradition for the Conservative administration to ignore the majority,” said House, a conscientious objector who left Milwaukee and went to Canada during the Vietnam War.
House believes there are enough political blocs in the House of Commons to form a majority in support of the resolution.
But war veterans in Canada and on this side of the border are not pleased with the Americans seeking residency.
“It’s our belief that those who have deserted their countries’ forces at any time have broken the laws of their country and should be prosecuted as such,” said Bob Butt, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Legion, the biggest veterans’ organization in Canada.
William “Doc” Schmitz, editor of the VFW’s newspaper in New York State, could not agree more.
“I think that they should throw the deserters back and let them pay the penalty for deserting the armed forces. When their penalty is served, then they can choose to either stay in the United States or anywhere in the world. Basically, you do the crime, you do the time,” Schmitz said.
The penalties for desertion can include a dishonorable discharge, loss of pay and benefits, confinement of up to five years, and, if during time of war, the death penalty. Schmitz says the deserters knew the deal when they voluntarily enlisted
“Why did they join the armed services, to pick the conflict? Basically, the armed services is a dictatorship,” he said. “Your elected officials are the bosses, and you do whatever they tell you what to do.”
Hart, who served a year in Kuwait in 2003-04 during his nine years in the Army, said the volunteer military in the United States amounts to a draft for poor people.
And that’s what he tells Canadians who oppose him and other deserters when they are out seeking support among that country’s citizens.
“They say it’s not like it was during Vietnam because there is no draft now, and I tell them what they fail to understand is that it’s a poor man’s draft. Basically if you want to get money for college, help your mom and dad or even yourself to get out of the ghetto, the Army makes it very easy to join,” Hart said of the economic sign-up incentives that prompted him to enlist and twice re-enlist.
He also disputes the perception that members of the military are gung-ho warriors
“Everyone says that most of the American soldiers are patriots. That’s the picture that is painted and that they want to be over there in Iraq doing this. But if you talk to any soldier that is deployed over there or who has come back, you’ll find that they disagree and that it is all hogwash,” Hart said.
American troops, he added, are in a no-win situation.
“The Iraqi people don’t want us there. It’s a hostile situation, a powder keg, and here we are stuck in the middle of it. We overthrew this government that had at least some kind of semblance of control. But because it wasn’t in America’s best interest to keep Saddam [Hussein] in power, we had to overthrow him,” Hart said. Strong impression
Since he deserted, Hart says he also has come to the conclusion that there are parallels between President Bush and Saddam.
“Look at how many American soldiers have been exposed to depleted uranium because of Bush. Saddam used chemicals on his own people. He committed mass genocide on the Kurds. What our troops are doing, killing Iraqi people, wouldn’t that be considered genocide as well?” Hart said.
House, the attorney who like other U.S. conscientious objectors eventually received amnesty for refusing to fight in Vietnam, says that this newest wave of resisters has made a strong impression on him.
“When I interview these guys in my office, I find them to be extremely decent human beings. They’re not in any way shirking hard work and danger. But they’ve been put in such extreme situations that they reach a point and they turn off and say ‘I can’t be associated with this.’ ”
“They’ll tell me things like ‘have you ever seen a human being melted?’ and then they find out that it was an uninvolved civilian who was just in the wrong place,” House said.
Of Hart, the lawyer said, “He’s clearly authentically concerned about what he learned of U.S. policy in Iraq. I think he properly decided that he didn’t want to be associated with it.”
This article, by Gerry Condon, was originally published in ZMagazine, March 23, 2008
When Private Jeremy Hinzman crossed the border into Canada in January 2004, he became the first AWOL GI to seek refugee status there. The U.S. Army had denied his request to serve in a non-combat role as a Conscientious Objector. They forced him into a tour in Afghanistan, and then ordered him to deploy to Iraq. Four years after fleeing the country, Hinzman, his wife and one-year-old son are facing the possibility of deportation back to the United States.
In March 2005 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board denied Hinzman’s refugee claim. Notoriously conservative in its determinations, the Refugee Board refused to consider the illegality of the Iraq War and declared that the court-martial and imprisonment that awaited Hinzman in the U.S. did not amount to “persecution” for his political beliefs.
Brandon Hughey, the second AWOL GI to seek refuge in Canada, was also denied refugee status, as have at least a dozen other U.S. war resisters—and counting.
Although Canada has never granted refugee status to anyone fleeing persecution in the United States, Hinzman, Hughey, and their Canadian supporters continued undaunted in their quest for political refugee status. Their lawyer, Vietnam War resister Jeffry House, appealed in Canada’s Federal Courts, eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court. But on November 15, 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it would not hear the war resisters’ appeals.
Seeking refugee status, however, “was never the only arrow in our quiver,” says Lee Zaslofsky, coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, and one of 30,000 Vietnam War resisters who have become Canadian citizens. “We have pursued a two-track strategy from the beginning. Even while we fought in the courts for refugee status, we were working on the political front to build popular support for sanctuary and to win the support of the various political parties.”
The war resisters’ political strategy bore its first fruit last December 6 in Canada’s House of Commons. After hearing eloquent testimony from former U.S. Army Sergeant Phillip McDowell, along with representatives of the Mennonites and Quakers, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the government to allow war resisters to stay in Canada. The motion, which also calls for a halt to deportation proceedings, passed by a 7-4 vote, with all of the opposition parties united against the ruling Conservatives.
The Committee’s motion, which was broadened to include resisters of all wars not sanctioned by the UN, reads as follows: “The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already com- menced against such individuals.
The passage of this motion was the first good news they had received in some time. “This shows a willingness of the opposition parties in Canada’s Parliament to come together to ensure that none of these resisters is returned to the U.S. where they face court martials, incarceration, and possible deployment to Iraq,” said Zaslofsky.
Campaign organizer Michelle Robidoux sounded a more cautionary note. “I want to make sure that nobody leaves thinking that this is won. It’s very important that we understand that now the work begins…. [The passage of this motion] does not mean that people can stay immediately. It means that there is a political opening here—it’s a significant poli- tical opening.”
“What we need,” continued Zaslofsky, “is for the Liberal Party as a whole to take a stance on this. Together (the three parties) have a majority and if they act together they can put something through the House of Commons.
Poll Reveals Support
Coming only weeks after the disappointing decision by the Supreme Court, the Committee’s affirmative vote felt like a miracle. But it was no fluke. For four years the War Resisters Support Campaign, comprised of unions, churches, artists, and activists, has been organizing across Canada with the slogan “Let Them Stay.” The war resisters themselves have spoken hundreds of times, collectively, in community meetings and in the media.
Demonstrations were held across Canada and the U.S. in support of war resisters, January 25-26, 2007—photo from www.resisters.ca
The extent of the Campaign’s success was demonstrated in a June 2007 poll showing that nearly two-thirds of the people of Ontario supported the war resisters. Of the 605 Ontarians who responded to the pollsters’ questions, 64.6 percent said U.S. soldiers should be allowed to settle in Canada while only 27.2 percent said they should be sent home. The poll results were broken down by gender, age, location, and party support. Each demographic was supportive of the war resisters, with 74 percent of NDP voters, 71 percent of Liberal voters, and even 53 percent of Conservative voters saying, “Let them settle in Canada.”
Shirley Douglas, a Canadian actor and mother of actor Keifer Sutherland, agreed. “This poll shows that the Canadian tradition of welcoming Americans who dissent from the policies of war is still important to us,” said Douglas. “The Canadian government should move now to make it possible for war resisters to settle in this country as so many did during the Vietnam War.”
U.S. war resisters in Canada are very encouraged by this showing of popular and parliamentary support. The Committee’s motion must now be put before the entire House of Commons where it is hoped that the opposition parties will once again unite to pass it.
In the meantime, Jeremy Hinzman has received his Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. His case is being reviewed and within months he may be given an order to leave Canada. On yet another track, Hinzman is appealing to the Immigration Minister to allow him to remain in Canada on “Humanitarian and Compassionate” grounds, along with his wife, Nga Nguyen, and their son, Liam, now five, who has spent most of his life in Canada.
“It’s great that people all across Canada and the U.S. are coming out to show support for the war resisters,” said Patrick Hart, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army who came to Canada in 2005 with his family. “My family could be told we have to go back to the States anytime now. My wife Jill and I just want to be able to live here in peace and raise our son, Rian. We hope that the politicians will let us do that.”
Hart and fellow resisters Robin Long and Corey Glass have all received their Pre-Removal Risk Assessments, a step toward deportation.
While a majority of Conservative party voters in the Ontario poll were sympathetic to the plight of U.S. war resisters, that is not the position of the minority Conservative government. In 2003, Stephen Harper, Canada’s current prime minister, was a vocal proponent of Canada joining the U.S. war against Iraq. Fortunately, a sizable majority of the Canadian people saw things differently and the Liberal government at the time declined President Bush’s invitation to join the “Coalition of the Willing.” Harper now denies he ever supported the Iraq War.
But Canada’s Conservative prime minister is an ardent advocate for the U.S.-initiated war in Afghansistan, where Canadian soldiers are an important part of the NATO deployment. The previous Liberal government first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Harper’s Conservatives have extended that mission until February 2009 and are pursuing an additional extension, while exhorting the European members of NATO to send additional troops.
With more and more Canadian troops dying in Afghanistan, and a scandal raging over the torture of prisoners captured by Canadians and handed over to Afghan (and possibly U.S.) forces, the majority of Canadians are against this war. In fact, opposition to the Afghanistan War may be a major factor in forcing a federal election, possibly as early as this spring. Ultimately, it may take a change at the top of the Canadian government to ensure a safe haven for war resisters. With the Liberal Party in disarray, however, progressive Canadians worry that the Conservatives might return to power.
U.S. Antiwar Movement Joins Sanctuary Campaign
So it was with a mixture of optimism and urgency that the War Resisters Support Campaign organized a “pan-Canadian” day of action on Saturday, January 26, two days before the Parliament would reconvene. Events were held in at least 11 Canadian cities—from Victoria, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia. People listened to speeches, watched antiwar films, and wrote letters to government officials and party leaders. In several cities, they marched to the post office and made a show of mailing the letters.
In Toronto, the Bloor Street United Church filled up with hundreds of supporters. When Jeremy Hinzman was introduced, the crowd greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation. He then reminded listeners of the reasons he came to Canada in the first place and thanked the Canadian people for their tremendous support.
In the U.S., the war resister advocacy group Courage To Resist coordinated solidarity actions on Friday, January 25 to coincide with the pan-Canadian actions. Vigils were held outside Canadian Consulates in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. Delegations met with Consular officials and delivered copies of thousands of names of people in the U.S. who have signed petitions and letters to the Canadian government.
Significantly, the January 25 vigils and delegations were the first nationally coordinated actions in the U.S. in support of our war resisters in Canada. Groups that joined Courage to Resist and the War Resisters Support Campaign in making this a successful day included Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, War Resisters League, Iraq Veterans Against the War, DECOI, Veterans for Peace, Raging Grannies, Project Safe Haven, Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Truth in Recruiting, Payday men’s network, Global Women’s Strike, North Texas for Justice and Peace, United for Peace and Justice, and others.
United For Peace and Justice promoted these actions via email to its entire national membership. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) did the same, and IVAW members were front and center at many of the vigils around the country.
“As veterans of the Iraq war, we have a special role to play in supporting our war resisters,” said Chanan Suarez-Diaz, president of the Seattle chapter of IVAW. “Whether they are in Canada, Germany, or the U.S., whether they are AWOL, in the brig, on active duty, or in legal limbo like Lt. Ehren Watada, they need and deserve all of our support.”
Many of the resisters are, of course, also Iraq veterans themselves. They survived one tour but went AWOL when ordered back a second time. IVAW members have made several trips to Canada to visit their fellow veterans and they are making arrangements for some of them to testify via satellite television at the Winter Soldier hearings being organized for March 13-16 in Washington, DC. Iraq veterans are also mobilizing members and supporters to reach out to active duty GI’s, including at Fort Lewis, Washington.
War Resisters Still Coming To Canada
Estimates of the number of U.S. war resisters in Canada range from 200-300. Approximately 50 of them have applied for refugee status.
AWOL GIs continue to make the trek north. They can still enter Canada as visitors and then apply for refugee status, which gives them immediate legal status in Canada as long as their refugee claim is pending, possibly a year or more. Refugee claimants are eligible for social assistance in some provinces and for Canada’s free national healthcare.
War resisters thinking of coming to Canada are advised to call the War Resisters Support Campaign so that Canadian supporters know they are on their way. This is increasingly important because Canadian border guards at some points of entry are reportedly profiling AWOL soldiers and discouraging them from entering, even putting them on the phone with their commanding officers. In such a case, a war resister can claim refugee status right at the border, and the Canadian authorities will respect this. Otherwise, it is preferable to enter Canada and see a Canadian lawyer before making a refugee claim.
“This is a complicated business,” says Zaslofsky. “Actually, the first thing we tell people who call for advice is to call the GI Rights Hotline and find out all their options.”
Some AWOL GIs may actually be eligible to be discharged from the military without further punishment, and experienced counselors can help them do that. Such an outcome is arguably preferable to an uncertain future in Canada without the ability to travel home to the U.S. to visit family or friends.
In case Canada does deport war resisters back to the U.S., the antiwar movement must be prepared to defend them, legally and politically. Some might call it amnesty. Some might call it justice or human rights or solidarity. The bottom line is that nobody should be punished for refusing to fight in an unjust war. By energetically supporting all war resisters, we can help bring an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and make it more difficult to launch such wars in the future. That should be our goal.