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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This article, by Janice Tibbetts and Linda Nguyen, was originally published in the National Post, July 15, 2008
OTTAWA -- In their battle to secure asylum in Canada, U.S. military deserters are being sorted into winning and losing camps by the Federal Court, which some lawyers contend has been inconsistent and confusing in its treatment of war resisters.
In six court decisions in the last two years, there have been four losers and two winners among the first batch of former soldiers to challenge their defeats at the Immigration and Refugee Board.
"We've got a divided court," said Toronto lawyer Geraldine Sadoway, whose client, Justin Colby, recently lost his refugee bid, after fleeing to Canada two years ago following a one-year stint as a medic in Iraq.
Ms. Sadoway says she cannot figure out why the Federal Court rejected Mr. Colby's claim on June 26, only one week before it handed the first ever victory to deserter Joshua Key, who also served in Iraq.
The court ordered the refugee board to reconsider Mr. Key's claim, on the grounds that the U.S. soldier witnessed enough human rights abuses during a stint in Iraq that he could be eligible to qualify for asylum.
Ms. Sadoway attributes the apparently conflicting rulings to the fact that different judges decided the cases and that the court is still trying to find its way in the emerging issue of how to deal with dozens of army deserters whom the refugee board has concluded do not fit the traditional mould for asylum.
Toronto lawyer Jeffry House, who represented Mr. Key, said that one clear difference between the Saskatchewan father and other claimants [except Colby] is that Key served in Iraq and says he witnessed severe human rights abuses during military-condoned home invasions of Iraqi civilians.
"I think that reopens the case for anybody who was in Iraq and whose case was based on that kind of analysis," said House.
Three other military deserters who lost in the Federal Court -- Brandon Huey, Jeremy Hinzman and Robin Long -- were never deployed to the middle-Eastern country. Mr. Long was deported Tuesday, making him the first U.S. soldier to be kicked out of Canada.
"I can confirm that a removal has taken place," said CBSAspokeswoman Shakila Manzoor. She would provide no further details about the deportation.
The 25-year-old filed a refugee claim with the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2005, arguing that he would suffer irreparable harm if he was sent back to the U.S. He also claimed that he would be forced to participate in "war crimes" if he was stationed in Iraq.
Mr. Long has been in CBSA custody since last October, when he was arrested on a Canada-wide warrant at his home in Nelson, B.C., after the board struck down his refugee claim and ordered him out of the country.
His last appeal for refugee status was denied Monday by the Federal Court.
Mr. Long is being transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado, where he will continue with his former unit until it's decided how his case will proceed, said Ryan Brus, a spokesman for Fort Knox, Ky., where Long was stationed before he deserted.
"The unit commander will look at the facts and make a decision about what disciplinary actions will ensue," Mr. Brus said from Kentucky. "A recommendation will be made about what will happen to this soldier."
Messrs. Huey, Hinzman and Long all argued their cases on the grounds that they would face imprisonment if they were returned to the U.S. after deserting the military, a prospect that the court has rejected.
Corey Glass, who deserted the National Guard after his first tour in Iraq, was given a last-minute reprieve by the Federal Court last week to stay in Canada until the court decides whether to hear his appeal of his defeat before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The court did not give reasons for the stay, so it is unknown whether the decision was based on the Key ruling days earlier.
Alyssa Manning, a Toronto lawyer who represented Mr. Glass, said it is hard to conclude the Federal Court has been all over the map in its decisions thus far, given that each case has been argued on a separate set of facts.
"These cases seem to turn on the quality of the evidence that is being presented before the court," she said.
Ms. Manning acknowledged that the two divergent rulings only eight days apart -- in the Colby and Key cases -- appear to be at odds "when they both raised similar issues."
Less than 40 American soldiers have made refugee claims in Canada, said Karen Shadd, a spokeswoman for the federal Immigration Department. The Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates there are about 200 Iraq war dodgers in Canada.
Most cases are still at the Immigration and Refugee Board, which has never accepted a war resister's claim.
This article, by Ben Ehrenreich, was publishd in the New York Times magazine, March 23, 2008
Next month, the Canadian House of Commons is slated to debate a resolution that would allow conscientious objectors “who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations” to apply for residency in Canada. The phrasing is vague but the intent is not. The war in question is the Iraq war, and the resolution represents the culmination of a four-year debate about what to do with the small but steady stream of American soldiers who have fled across our northern border to avoid fighting in Iraq.
It all began in Jan. 2004, when a young American with a long, serious face walked into the Toronto law office of Jeffry House to ask for help with what was at the time a highly unusual immigration case. The American turned out to be a soldier named Jeremy Hinzman, an infantryman in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He told House that his petition for conscientious-objector status was denied while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He crossed the border into Canada just days before his unit was to be deployed to Iraq. Of the more than 25,000 American soldiers who, according to the United States Department of Defense, have deserted since 2003, the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates that 225 have fled to Canada. (The D.O.D defines a deserter as anyone who has been AWOL for 30 consecutive days or who seeks asylum in a foreign country; desertion carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.)
The majority of the deserters in Canada have chosen not to make the authorities aware of their presence. Like any other illegal immigrants, they have settled for invisibility. A few dozen, though, followed Hinzman’s lead. Most found their way to Jeffry House. One young Army medic named Justin Colby read an AOL news posting about Hinzman’s case while stationed in Iraq. He telephoned House from Ramadi and showed up in his office a few months later.
House would eventually represent between 30 and 35 American deserters. Most of them, like Colby, say they joined the military in part out of patriotism. “I thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11,” Colby says, “that they were the bad guys that attacked our country.” But unlike Hinzman, most did not apply for conscientious-objector status. They tend to say they aren’t opposed to all wars in principle — just to the one they were ordered to fight. It wasn’t until Colby arrived in Iraq that he started to see the conflict as “a war of aggression, totally unprovoked,” he says. “I was, like, ‘This is what my buddies are dying for?’ ” Midway through his tour, he decided: “I’m never going to do this again.” He went AWOL the day before his unit left to train for a second deployment. House says that more than two-thirds of his clients have been deployed to Iraq at least once. “One is resisting a third deployment.”
Tens of thousands of American draft dodgers and deserters took refuge in Canada in the late 1960s and early ’70s. House was one of them. He packed up his car and left his home in Wisconsin 38 years ago to start a new life in Canada. The process was simple. “I came to the border and said: ‘I would like to immigrate to Canada. I’m refusing to serve in Vietnam,’ ” he recalls. Border officials had him type up an application for residency on the spot. “Four weeks later, I got my permanent-resident status.” But times have changed since Pierre Trudeau, then the prime minister, declared Canada “a refuge from militarism.” While Canada is still a relative haven for asylum-seekers, its immigration laws have tightened sharply, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a faithful ally of the Bush administration. (Harper has kept 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, whose deployment the House of Commons recently extended until 2011.) As a result, the new generation of war resisters find themselves in an uncomfortable squeeze. In today’s Canada, deserters like Hinzman really have only one legal option: to apply for residency as refugees.
“There’s a very clear Canadian precedent for the idea that no soldier has to participate in an illegal war,” House says. That precedent, interestingly enough, is a case in which an Iraqi Army soldier was granted asylum in Canada after fleeing to avoid taking part in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But House’s first task was to prove that the Iraq war is illegal. His argument relied largely on his reading of international law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees lays out a slender possibility for relief. Mere disagreement with the “political justification for a particular military action” is not sufficient. The action must be “condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct.” Only in that case can punishment for desertion or draft evasion “be regarded as persecution.”
Juridically, at least, House saw the case as straightforward. A British court had awarded asylum to a Russian deserter of the Chechen war on the same basis. (British case law often influences Canadian jurisprudence.) And there was the precedent of the Iraqi deserter. But convincing the Canadian courts to equate George W. Bush’s occupation of Iraq with Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait was a politically daunting task.
In the end, House never got the chance. He showed up at Hinzman’s first hearing armed with evidence arguing for the illegality of the Iraq war: 13 four-inch-thick binders containing everything from former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s memos on the treatment of detainees to Human Rights Watch reports to the British Army’s documentation of civilian deaths at American military checkpoints. In March 2005, the immigration board ruled against Hinzman, insisting that its “authority does not include making judgments about United States foreign policy.”
A Canadian federal court upheld that decision in 2006, interpreting the relevant international law to apply only to high-level policy makers. “The ordinary foot soldier,” the court ruled, “is not expected to make his or her personal assessment as to the legality of a conflict.” All the documents in House’s 13 binders were thus irrelevant. House objected that policy makers are rarely asked to take up arms. But an appeals court ruled against him last April on other grounds.
“The present position is basically Pontius Pilate,” House told me last fall, not long before he hit the end of the legal road. In mid-November, the Supreme Court dismissed his request for an appeal. “It’s a huge loss,” House said at the time. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the court deciding not to be involved in the controversy.”
The deserters’ fight has since passed out of the courts and into the hazy realm of politics. On Dec. 6, the Parliament’s immigration committee passed the resolution that would give American deserters a chance at residency. The vote broke down along party lines: the four members of the Conservative Party (which is currently in power but lacks a parliamentary majority) voted against it, but they were outnumbered by the seven representatives of the three major opposition parties.
Whether such unity will survive the full House of Commons debate next month remains to be seen. The Iraq war has been immensely unpopular in Canada, and the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party have both come out in support of the resolution. But Canadian M.P.’s tend to vote with far more party discipline than their American counterparts, and Stéphane Dion, the head of the Liberal Party, has not yet taken a public stance on the bill. Without his support, its fate is uncertain.
In the meantime, the deserters have little to do but wait. Though the United States Army does issue arrest warrants for deserters, it does not actively track them down; even at home, deserters are most likely to be apprehended if they are picked up for an unrelated offense. According to a State Department spokeswoman, the United States has made no diplomatic efforts to bring deserters home from Canada. And despite the Canadian Supreme Court decision in November, none have yet been deported. But, as House puts it, “the machinery is grinding along.” At least eight deserters, including Hinzman, have received Preremoval Risk Assessment notices, the bureaucratic preludes to actual deportation orders. It’s very unlikely, though, that the government will make any move before the parliamentary vote in April. Even then, the deserters’ supporters say they hope, the government might prefer that this issue disappear. Given the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the Harper administration’s narrow hold on power, “the Conservatives have nothing to gain if this issue becomes very public,” says Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Undeterred by the Supreme Court ruling, new arrivals are still showing up. Robidoux’s group has added five to its roster in just the last three weeks. For Colby, Hinzman and others, uncertainty in Canada apparently looks better than combat in Iraq. “Every day that I’m here,” Colby says, “I’m glad I’m not in Baghdad.”
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.