by Rev. Jack Risk
Winnipeg Free Press, September 21, 2008
Why should Canada allow American war resisters to stay in our country?
We have a clear memory, which disturbs us to this day, of watching a live Reuters feed of the Baghdad skyline that night in 2003 when the U.S. began its assault. A defenceless civilian population was subjected to the most horrific bombardment. The majority of Canadians were clear, even before our government of the day elected not to involve us, about where we stood on the Iraq war. The world, generally, has come to understand it as an illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of a sovereign country. Having to watch as Iraq’s historical treasures were pillaged, as the country devolved into civil war, as foreign mercenaries ran amok and as torture became part of the daily business of the American military, has only served to solidify Canadians’ collective opinion. Would that Bush, Rumsfeld et al. could be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But our geography has meant that Canada could not escape some degree of responsibility. Several Iraq war resisters have chosen to seek refuge here rather than continue to support what they see, with the clear eyes of experience, to be an unjust war.
The stories they tell are gripping — of being ordered to drive their humvees over, not around, civilian vehicles; of murderous search and seizure operations with no military objective other than to terrorize the population; of momentous personal decisions not to implicate themselves in massacres of innocent civilians; of coming to gradual awareness that they had been lied to about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and other justifications for the invasion.
Their stories also include being illegally refused the opportunity to apply for conscientious objector status. Some have finished their tours of duty only to face the involuntary extension of their enlistment contracts under “stop-loss” provisions.
The Geneva Conventions require it as a matter of duty not to participate in war crimes. The right to conscientious objection has been recognized by the United Nations. The right of asylum from persecution, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, imposes a responsibility on nations to afford such asylum. In June our House of Commons voted to allow persons who have “refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations” to apply for permanent resident status and to remain in Canada.
Why has Stephen Harper chosen to ignore this decision of Parliament? On Tuesday, Jeremy Hinzman and his family are scheduled to be deported.
Amnesty International has said it would consider deported war resisters to be prisoners of conscience if imprisoned on their return to the U.S. — as has already happened in the case of Robin Long.
It is time for Canada’s government to embrace American war resisters and the examples of courage and conscience they present to us. Such a stand would be in accordance with the conscience of the people of Canada.
Jack Risk is a Winnipeg Anglican priest.