9.06.2007

sanctuary

I attended a War Resisters Support Campaign meeting last night. It was a national strategy session, including (on a conference call) Support groups from Toronto, London, Orillia, Ottawa, Nelson (BC), Thunder Bay, Victoria and Vancouver.

Among other things, I learned two bits of Canadian history.

  • During the Vietnam War, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared Canada a "refuge from militarism".

    Trudeau called upon the government to change Canada's immigration policy, so that border guards could not ask about military status. That opened the door to Vietnam draft resisters and war deserters.

    Those former fleeing young men are now in their late 50s and early 60s. They have been Canadians for some 40 years.

    Canada can be a sanctuary again. Canada can shelter people who chose peace over war, democracy over the rule of force. I believe this speaks to the Canada most Canadians want to see.

  • It was a Conservative MP who changed Canada's policy towards the refugees known as "boat people".

    Canada, much more a white country then than now, wasn't prepared to welcome tens of thousands of Southeast Asians. (Those refugees, of course, were fleeing the results of another US overseas adventure.) A Conservative MP (anyone know who?) appealed to the average Canadian to help, and changed a policy.

    Using a sponsorship system, through which Canadian organizations and families could help immigrant families, 60,000 displaced people were re-settled in Canada between 1979 and 1981. They, too, are now Canadian.

    I gleaned these two tidbits from a reliable source - the CBC's Andy Barrie, himself a Vietnam deserter - but I don't know any further details than what I've found online. If you know more, please help wmtc readers learn.

    * * * *

    Canada can once again be a sanctuary from militarism. Hundreds of former US soldiers who served time in Iraq, then turned their back on the war, are living in Canada. You can help them receive refugee status by helping to create the necessary political climate.

    Tell your MPs, tell your neighbours, tell your blog readers, tell your co-workers. Three simple words: let them stay.

    Here are some practical ways you can help.

  • Buy the video. "Let Them Stay" was produced by the War Resisters Support Campaign. It's an excellent introduction to the issue, and can help educate you and others about what US war resisters are facing in Canada.

    The Support Campaign is an all-volunteer organization. 100% of your $20 will go towards legal and material aid for war resisters.

  • Contact the federal government. Write your MP. Write Stephen Harper. Write the Immigration Minister. Tell them this is the Canada you want to live in. Tell them: let them stay.

  • Sign the petition. If you haven't done so already, join 14,000 of your countrypeople in asking the government to let them stay.

  • Spread the word. How many Canadians don't even know there are US war resisters seeking refuge in Canada? Among those who know, how many mistakenly believe the former soldiers can just live legally in Canada? Talk to your friends, your co-workers, your running buddies, the folks at your dog park. You can help raise awareness, and help create support for those three words.

  • October 27, 2007 is an International Day of Action Against War. Join your neighbours to protest the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There will be simultaneous protests in Canada and the US. Resisters will be there.

    Let them stay.
  • 9 comments:

    James said...

    During the Vietnam War, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared Canada a "refuge from militarism".

    And many of the deserters ended up straying in Yorkville, which is now known as the trendiest of trendy shopping districts in town -- but back then, it was hippie central.

    L-girl said...

    Some of the organizers have shared memories of their Yorkville days. It's hard to envision, like imagining NYC's Greenwich Village as an arts/bohemian enclave.

    L-girl said...

    BC was also a big destination. Many people in the town of Nelson are proud of their community's embrace of war resisters.

    When I was with the Haven Coalition, I worked with two Canadian women living in NYC, who were both the daughters of draft evaders. Way to feel old!

    M@ said...

    I worked with a draft dodger at an IT company a few years ago. His story -- which he didn't tell me until he was leaving the company, for some reason -- was fascinating.

    Anyhow, that's not really on topic. What is on topic is that while we can't do anything about the Bush war on Iraq, we can at least enable and empower those who resist it however possible.

    By the way, something I learned not long ago is that every Canadian who is serving in Afghanistan right now has been given the option to stay home. It may not have been given in the most neutral way (e.g. "Here. Sign this. You have five minutes.") but if a soldier wants to opt out of our war in Afghanistan, he or she does not have to flee the country, and does not face jail time or even any official reprimand, as far as I know. (It would probably be a career-limiting move, but not as big a CLM as getting shot or bombed, of course.)

    Says something about Canada and its military I think. (I'm biased, granted, but still.)

    It would be great for Canada to maintain the same moral stance for other countries' citizens too.

    Incidentally, many countries have mandatory universal military service, and we don't send their former citizens back to their country of birth when they turn 18. Why would we give Americans a different status?

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the update. Also - You might find "Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada," by John Hagan, and "North to Canada: Men and Women Against the Vietnam War," by James Dickerson interesting reading.

    L-girl said...

    Thanks for reminding me of those titles, MSEH. I think I'll move them up on my list and read them sooner rather than later. I'll need the background.

    One of "our" resisters (forgive my possessive), Joshua Key, recently published The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq.

    L-girl said...

    What is on topic is that while we can't do anything about the Bush war on Iraq, we can at least enable and empower those who resist it however possible.

    Well said! If you don't mind, I'd like to use that, as many times as possible.

    Says something about Canada and its military I think.

    It definitely does. Remember, the resisters are mainly "volunteers" who were involuntarily re-upped for 25 years then ordered back to Iraq.

    M@ said...

    Remember, the resisters are mainly "volunteers" who were involuntarily re-upped for 25 years then ordered back to Iraq.

    This is the dirty secret that never seems to make it into the consciousness of the people (usually civilians) who dare to judge resisters. I don't agree that someone should be sent overseas against their will under any circumstances, regardless of what they agreed to beforehand. When they never actually agreed beforehand, it's nothing short of 18th century press gangs.

    I'd like to use that, as many times as possible.

    Please -- by all means!

    L-girl said...

    This is the dirty secret that never seems to make it into the consciousness of the people (usually civilians) who dare to judge resisters.

    People don't generally know this, that is very true. I think we have to publicize it much more widely.

    I do think that public opinion in Canada supports people who stand up against the war. I really think that if more Canadians hear the resisters' stories, they will support refugee status for them.

    The media, however, is not particularly interested in those stories.