12.07.2007

let them stay: a victory!

This morning I am thinking of that Todd Rundgren song:

Shining still,
To give us the will
Bright as the day,
To show us the way
Somehow,
Someday,
We need just one victory
And we're on our way
Prayin' for it all day
And fightin' for it all night
Give us just one victory,
It will be all right
We may feel about to fall
But we go down fighting
You will hear the call
If you only listen
Underneath it all
We are here together
Shining still

We had a victory yesterday! Just one victory, and not the final victory, and a long struggle remains. But the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration passed our motion. Things went in our favour, we carried the day, and we deserve to be happy.

The Committee passed a motion saying that non-Canadians in Canada who refuse to participate in wars not sanctioned by the UN, and who do not have a criminal record, should be allowed to remain legally in Canada, and to apply for Permanent Resident status while living here, and all deportation or removal actions against them should cease while their applications are being processed.

It's exactly what we needed, yet alone, it means very little.

Here's how it went down.

* * * *

The folks in my car, who went up just for the day, missed the morning press conference; folks who attended that went up the night before. We heard the press conference was very sparsely covered because of the Karlheinz Schreiber scandal. After that, people attended Question Period, which I wish I could have done, but I'll certainly do some other time. Instead, we met up with a few other Campaigners, and had something to eat and hung out in the West Block cafeteria. Olivia Chow opened her office as our home base for the day, letting everyone leave their coats and bags in there, and buying lunch for the Campaign.

The Committee hearing itself was in the late afternoon, under a strict time schedule because of a House of Commons vote immediately afterwards. We packed the room with supporters. Among them was Jen, activist nurse, who read about the hearings on wmtc and volunteered to house people the night before.

On the Committee itself, there were supposed to be five Conservatives and seven combined opposition, but one Tory was the chair, so he didn't vote. That was nice for us, but it turns out it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

First two CIC bureaucrats testified and defended their policies. They were dolts and couldn't answer any of the Committee Members' questions.

They didn't even present an accurate institutional history. For example, they claimed that during the Vietnam era, the people Canada let in were escaping conscription - "draft dodgers". In reality, they were not only draft dodgers. There were also volunteers who deserted (one of those now co-leads the Campaign!), people who tried to get Conscientious Objector status in the US but were refused, and people who left in protest of the war, who were never in danger of being forced to serve.

A Tory made a speech decrying Canada creating "special loopholes" for certain people who deserted "voluntary duty" in their "country's time of need". A Liberal asked him if he needed a teleprompter.

Oral testimony on our behalf was: a Mennonite, whose people have benefited from conscientious objector status since coming to Canada; a war resister, former Sergeant Phillip McDowell; Jeffry House, the lawyer who represents most of the resisters pro bono (and who was a Vietnam deserter); and a representative from the Quakers. There were also written statements of support from other people and groups.

Everyone was good, but Phil was awesome. He's an excellent speaker, and he utterly demolished the Tory's non-arguments. The Conservatives' two central points were "service is voluntary" and "if they go back, they get a slap on the wrist, so just face the music".

Phil himself was stop-lossed. He joined the military after September 11, 2001, because he felt compelled to help his country. Instead of going to Afghanistan, he was deployed to Iraq. There, he saw war crimes, to which he can testify first-hand, and he saw that his continued participation in the army was part of those crimes. He saw men heavily punished for attempting to refuse participation, so he vowed to serve out his contract, then end his time with the army. He did so, and was discharged.

Months later, he was ordered back to Iraq. He tried every legal means to remain a civilian. There was no recourse. Absolutely none. He was ordered to deploy.

Voluntary?

Phil then rang out a list of US soldiers who refused deployment to Iraq and did prison time. Real prison, and real time. Each of them received a "bad conduct discharge," a felony which is on your record for the rest of your life.

Slap on the wrist?

Another Conservative supposed argument was the "tens of thousands" of people waiting in refugee camps, fleeing torture and starvation, who are supposedly waiting to come to Canada. How can we justly take you folks, whose lives are so good, and turn those others away?

Jeffry House pointed out that this is a false construct. There is no finite number of slots, through which accepting a US war resister means turning away a Kurdish refugee. A Liberal pointed out that if the Conservatives are so concerned about those refugees, they could make it a priority to help them. Why have those poor folks been waiting in camps for so long anyway? And why haven't we heard about them until today?

Going into the hearing, we knew the NDP and the Bloc were on our side. We needed the two Liberals to vote in our favour in order to carry the motion. There was not a lot of optimism about it; I later learned that Campaign leadership did not expect it to pass.

But during the hearing, the Liberal Members asked very good questions, and seemed sympathetic. One of them mentioned a constituent who needed similar status to escape punishment for refusing to fight in a different war of aggression, by a different country. The motion was amended to change "the US war in Iraq" to "any war not sanctioned by the UN or other international governing body".

Notes were passed, Members briefly left the room together, people whispered in each other's ears. We were watching consensus being reached.

Meanwhile, it was getting late; a vote had to go off before 5:15. But first another Tory had to make another speech: they were running down the clock. This MP actually started talking e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s - l - o - w - l - y, telling stories about his Mennonite grandfather and uncle, how they served administrative duties during World War II, and how "we Mennonites" have the courage of "our" convictions, so if you have to go to jail, just shut up and go.

I believe Olivia Chow had to interrupt him to ask for the question to be called.

The Tories would not give unanimous consent for the question to be called, and insisted on an individual voice vote so they could oppose even that. Finally, as the clock ticked down to 5:13, the motion was called. After four Tory "nays," we heard seven ringing affirmations: "YES," "OUI," OH YEAH" "certainment".

We exploded with joy.

* * * *

So what does this mean? Both nothing, and a lot. The Committee motion itself has no teeth. The Committee will recommend to the Government that the war resisters be allowed to stay in Canada and apply for Permanent Residence. The Government will say no.

But we are trying to get a resolution passed in the House by a united Opposition. We already have the support of the NDP and the Bloc, so our primary objective is to lobby the Liberals. Now we can show them that their own Members who sit on the Immigration Committee, and who have studied the issue, support this. It can only help. The best way to think of it is as a stepping stone, or a springboard. Just one victory.

* * * *

I left my house at 7:00 a.m. and got back at 2:00 a.m., a bit of a long day for an old girl like me. I drove up with a resister and a campaigner (who was a Vietnam War resister), both people I'm friends with. On the way back, another resister came with us and he drove. Ten hours in a car together is a good way to get to know each other and for friendships to deepen, so that was really nice.

We also went out for a small celebration at a pub, something most Campaign members do after every meeting, but I drive back to Mississauga. So this was a nice opportunity for me to hang out a little. Jen (from Keep Insite Open) and two folks from Courage To Resist were there. The Courage to Resist people came from San Francisco to submit a supportive brief and attend the hearings. They're the reason I first heard about these war resisters, so I was very pleased to shake hands and exchange cards.

A good day. A win. And now, onward.

Update:

  • Exact wording of the motion:
    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 commenced against such individuals.

  • The minutes of the committee session are available here.

  • When everything is translated, you can read the witnesses's submitted statements and all the supporting documents by clicking on the "evidence" box for the December 6 meeting on this page.
  • 21 comments:

    M@ said...

    Congratulations! Excellent work!

    I heard about the result of the committee meeting on the CBC this morning and was very happy to hear it.

    Funny how those darned Kurdish refugees pop up just when they're needed most, and then go away as soon as some money is needed for them? I wouldn't be surprised if, next week, some Kurdish refugees were denied money to pay for all the American resisters who are streaming across the border.

    Again, excellent, excellent news. I'm sure you're very proud of this success and you should be.

    Can you provide a list of the MPs on the standing committee, especially the Liberals?

    L-girl said...

    Thank you, thank you!

    I heard about the result of the committee meeting on the CBC this morning and was very happy to hear it.

    Yay! I'm glad to hear that, too.

    Yes, funny about those Kurds. Mighty convenient of them.

    Can you provide a list of the MPs on the standing committee, especially the Liberals?

    Good question, I will post. I'm told the names change frequently, but I'll tell you who I know.

    West End Bound said...

    Good Job, L-Girl!

    I've had a favourable impression of Olivia Chow and her husband Jack Layton. Now even more so . . . .

    L-girl said...

    Immigration Committee at the hearing:

    Norman Doyle, Chair, Conservative - nice guy, came to shmooze and meet resisters before the meeting but is not on our side

    Meili Faille, BQ

    Andrew Telegdi, Liberal, supporter

    Dave Batters, Conservative Asshole Supreme

    Colleen Beaumier, Liberal, housed Vietnam resisters in the 60s (when it was illegal), vigorously opposes Cdn involvement in Afghanistan. Very cool at this hearing.

    Maurizio Bevilacqua, Liberal, was absent; I don't have name of the person who stood in for him. Was one of our heavy lobby targets.

    Robert Carrier, BQ

    Nina Grewal, Conservative

    Jim Karygiannis, Liberal, brought up his Muslim constituent who is wanted for draft dodging in Turkey, was undecided, a heavy lobby target, is now with us

    Bradley Trost, Conservative Asshole Junior

    Alex Atamanenko, NDP, actively helped stop deportation of war resister Robin Long

    Olivia Chow, NDP, our hero

    Full membership list here.

    L-girl said...

    Thank you, WEB!

    I've had a favourable impression of Olivia Chow and her husband Jack Layton. Now even more so . . . .

    Chow was the first supporter of this campaign and has been with the resisters from the very first. I enjoyed seeing her office - various Sesame Street characters dressed in NDP orange, and a watercolour of Tommy Douglas over her desk.

    redsock said...

    Dave Batters, Conservative Asshole Supreme

    I think this should be an actual position -- like Prime Minister.

    L-girl said...

    I think this should be an actual position -- like Prime Minister.

    There'd be so much competition for the job!

    L-girl said...

    More info on who was present:

    Lloyd St. Amand sat in for Maurizio Bevilacqua

    Bradley R. Trost was there in place of Wajid Khan

    I'm glad I didn't have to see Khan, the turncoat from Mississauga.

    L-girl said...

    I've had a favourable impression of Olivia Chow and her husband Jack Layton. Now even more so

    Hey, check out her website!!

    Cuddles said...

    When you think about it, English Canada was largely founded in the first place by Americans who wanted to avoid participating in a war they didn't believe in, so why not stick with that tradition?

    Then again, I'm from Vancouver and you can't swing a cat in some parts of town without hitting a Vietnam-era draft dodger.
    --Stephen Cudmore

    L-girl said...

    Hi Stephen! Thanks for stopping by.

    If you believe Canada should let the US war resisters stay, please tell your MP. A quick letter will do it.

    More information here.

    Jen said...

    Hey L-girl,
    It was great to meet you, Phil, Jamine, everyone yesterday. I had to smile at your description of Ms. Beaumier as "cool"... did you miss the backstage conniption fit? Granted, she was cool at the mic where it counted!
    Jen

    L-girl said...

    Hi Jen! It was so great to meet you too. I look forward to seeing you again and hopefully meeting L too.

    did you miss the backstage conniption fit? Granted, she was cool at the mic where it counted!

    Oh yeah, I heard about it. But like you said, on the record... where it counts! :)

    Tom said...

    Awesome! I am so glad to read your activism in Canada.

    I am trying to figure out what I will take on when I am there. I am thinking about opressed GLBT people from Muslim nations who need visas to Canada. You inspire me Laura.

    Idealistic Pragmatist said...

    Very exciting! Congratulations!

    Olivia spoke at a Linda Duncan campaign event recently--she's just great, isn't she?

    L-girl said...

    Thanks I/P! And yes, she sure is.

    Thank you, Tom. Perhaps you'll do better than I did in getting into activism after your move.

    I wanted to give myself a year to settle in, and it wound up being two years. My work situation and various other things kept getting in the way. Now that I know what was going on in the Campaign over that year, I'm sorry I didn't make the time sooner.

    MJ said...

    So, out of curiosity, any thoughts on participating in the process in Canada vs. the United States? Both the interaction with the politians and the actual activist group itself. More or less the same?

    L-girl said...

    So, out of curiosity, any thoughts on participating in the process in Canada vs. the United States? Both the interaction with the politians and the actual activist group itself. More or less the same?

    Hm, interesting question.

    Activist groups come in all different stripes, wherever you are. This particular group is excellent - focused, organized, democratic. They are unusually warm and friendly, but I can't attribute that to any one thing or another.

    I've had a wide range of experiences with activist groups. This is one of the better experiences, but I can't say it's because they're Canadian. It's way too small a sample size. But put it this way, it's no surprise to me that a Canadian group is very friendly and open.

    Re lobbying, my experience with lobbying in the US is very limited. It was never the focus of my activities. That's partly because the US system doesn't work. Lobbying in the US is most important on the state level, and New York State government is notoriously awful - slow, corrupt, labyrinthine.

    For example, I did some lobbying with the sexual assault / domestic violence group I was involved with. One year later, we returned to Albany lobbying the exact same thing. It was the 5th consecutive year that this group was trying to get a bill out of committee.

    This was too frustrating for me, and although important, not where I chose to put my energies. I left that part of the group and stuck with public speaking, workshops for young people and other work.

    Whether or not that is typical for lobbying in the US, I can't say. Again, too small a sample size.

    I will say that it's clear the system in Canada does work, that if enough Canadians want something and make their demands clear, they stand a good chance of getting it, given it's not in violation of a Charter right.

    I don't want to say that as a blanket statement, as if it's true 100% of the time. But it's clear that in Canada, lobbying MPs is not a waste of time. It can and does produce change.

    Lone Primate said...

    Congratulations, that's quite a story! :)

    L-girl said...

    Thank you :)

    Cornelia said...

    Human rights are unalienable and of course supporting the war resisters being allowed to stay in Canada doesn't mean opposing the rights of Kurdish refugees to asylum or anything.
    But many Conservative people wouldn't even support refugee claims filed by people who came from the very worst dictatorships
    or from women in danger of honor murder without any chance to get help and protection from the state where they came from! So probably the guy who said the thing about the Kurds is no staunch supporter of them either???