"Bittersweet" was how many news accounts described last week's parliamentary vote on whether or not Canada should offer asylum to Americans who deserted their military service rather than fight in Iraq.
On one hand, the NDP-sponsored motion to grant permanent residency to otherwise non-criminal deserters and their families -- or as many prefer to call them, war resisters -- passed by a vote of 137-110. Since the motion was non-binding, however, the Conservatives who represented that minority are expected to do nothing to implement it.
Yet there was much more bitterness than honey in that outcome, as far as I could see. I have strong feelings about the shameful abdication from Canada's traditional approach, and many of them are deeply personal. More about those in a moment.
There are many outward reasons why granting sanctuary to an estimated 200 former soldiers should be an automatic gesture for Canada. Foremost is the simple fact that the United Nations itself, not to mention enlightened voices around the world, declared the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to be a violation of the UN charter. It also would support the Nuremberg Principles, which compel a soldier to withdraw from military acts, like this one, which are patently illegal.
Second, the ultimate penalty for the crime of desertion from U.S. military service is execution, although that has apparently never occurred in the modern era. Still, Canada normally denies extradition for convicted murderers if they are sought by a death-penalty state. I would suggest that these soldiers are even more deserving of our reprieve.
Third, there are indications that many soldiers were fraudulently inducted into service. Conservative opponents of asylum like Edmonton MP Laurie Hawn have been quick to point out that the U.S. army is an all-volunteer service. "People do not join with their eyes closed," Hawn said in the House of Commons. "If they do, then they have their own problems."
In fact, young men have reported that during the post-Mission-Accomplished period, if not up until today, chummy military recruiters routinely said things like, "Dude, don't worry about going to Iraq. That's over and done with. You won't be seeing any combat."
But let me explain why I'm so incensed by the Tories and their leader, Stephen Harper, a man who claimed Canada made a mistake by not joining the coalition of the strong-armed in 2003.
I refer to the era of the Vietnam war, when Pierre Trudeau personally sparked the compassion which led to Canada welcoming some 50,000 to 80,000 young American draft-avoiders.
I would never have met my partner, a wonderfully principled woman, had she not fled the U.S. with her fiance back in 1971. They arrived at our border on a cold, rainy night in a state of dull terror, on little more than the strength of a rumour that Canada would welcome them. She still emotionally recalls the female customs agent in Creston, B.C., who went out of her way to comfort the young couple.
She wound up staying in Canada as a single mother, put herself through school, and became a therapist and counsellor. For the last three decades, she has offered comfort and advice to thousands of grateful Calgarians.
Like most of her cohorts, she brought sterling qualities to this country. Without the imaginative contributions of those draft evaders -- as academics, founders of theatres, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, social workers and many other vital occupations -- Canada would be inestimably worse off.
The argument that, this time around we would simply be importing cowards is a ridiculous one. If granted reprieve, these young people, like their earlier counterparts did even after President Jimmy Carter amnestied them in 1977, would suffer gravely the loss of their country. As for a potential opening of the floodgates, that alone makes it highly unlikely.
Mr. Harper, it's time to set aside your kowtowing to hawkish U.S. interests and do the right thing. The Canadian thing.
kevin brooker of calgary herald: do the canadian thing, let them stay
From Calgary Herald columnist Kevin Brooker: