let them stay: event report and update

Last night's event at Innis Town Hall was fantastic. Fourteen US war resisters were interviewed by CBC host Andy Barrie, himself a Vietnam War conscientious objector. Andy helped the resisters talk about why they joined the military, why they left, how going AWOL has impacted their lives, what they hope for in Canada. Cumulatively, this is a remarkable and moving story. I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the audience moved to tears, more than once.

One of the people Andy highlighted is Chuck Wiley. Chuck is older than most of the other resisters, having served almost 20 years in the military. He comes from a military family, where he is - was - the pride and joy, the "good son" who chose the route considered right and proper. Chuck was an officer, and served in a position where he was in no personal danger.

He saw young men - kids, really - joining the US military based on lies and false promises. He felt he owed it to his men to tell them the truth as he saw it. His superiors called that mutiny and sedition.

Going AWOL is not easy for anyone, but Chuck has paid an especially high price. He gave up a military career and pension. He gave up - at least for now - his family, who no longer speaks to him. If he's sent to prison, Chuck will give up his career. He's trained in highly specialized work that requires a security clearance; with a Bad Conduct Discharge, his career will be over.

Andy asked the resisters, "Well, what did you expect to find? War is hell, right? You saw people dying, losing limbs, homes destroyed, so you just left?"

Chuck answered, "I think if you ask people to kill or to be killed, there has to be a better reason than 'Because I said so'".

For more on Chuck, here's a piece written by someone who heard Chuck Wiley speak at his university.

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The Campaign was able to help Josh and Brandi Key come in from Saskatoon. It was the first time I had met the Keys; I was grateful for the opportunity to tell Josh how much his book meant to me, and to hang out with Brandi in the pub after the event. They are both extremely caring, good-hearted people.

I was also so happy that Tom and Emilio (Canadian Hope) attended the event! They know what it's like to live with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads every moment. This connection has led Tom to talk to people about the resisters' cause, painstaking "each one, reach one" personal activism. I can't thank them enough.

And special bonus, we got to meet new friend of wmtc Kim_in_TO. Kim knows Tom and Emilio, and is good friends with several Campaigners. My worlds are coming together!

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Corey Glass was also there. He looked despondent, and who can blame him. Why should he face prison and a life burdened by a criminal record? He joined the National Guard to help people during national emergencies. He says, "I should have been in New Orleans, not Iraq."

Olivia Chow, NDP Member of Parliament and Patron Saint of the War Resisters, was at the event, of course, urging the crowd to action. One of our Liberal supporters, MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, also attended. He disappointed the audience by making excuses for his party, but I'm not sure what else he can do. He personally supports our cause, but what is he supposed to say? "Sorry, our party leader is too spineless to make a stand"?

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To the war resisters, this is a personal issue of conscience versus blind obedience - freedom versus servitude. To Canadians, this should be a question of national identity. What kind of Canada do we want to live in?

The rest of the world still believes in the Canada that welcomed runaway slaves, that embraced Vietnam War resisters, and that now welcomes same-sex couples rejected by their own countries. That's the image of Canada internationally: a safe haven. Does that Canada still exist?

Do we want to live in a Canada that dutifully salutes the US's war agenda? Or a Canada that is - in the words of Pierre Trudeau - a "refuge from militarism"?

There is still hope. Please call Prime Minister Stephen Harper (613.992.4211) and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion (613.996.6740 or 613.996.5789). Tell them:
- to support the motion to allow Iraq War resisters to remain in Canada,
- to oppose the deportation of people of conscience who have resisted an illegal war, and
- to support the will of the Canadian people, not the U.S.'s war agenda.

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