mary jo leddy: will canada be a colony of empire or a country of conscience?

There's an excellent op-ed in today's Toronto Star. Writer Mary Jo Leddy is a theologian and activist, well known for her work on behalf of refugees.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called US war resisters "bogus refugees," prejudicing what is supposed to be an independent, apolitical process. But people who work with refugees disagree.
Let Iraq war resisters stay here
Mary Jo Leddy

Jeremy Hinzman was a soldier in the United States Army's elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne. In 2002 and 2003 he served in Afghanistan in a non-combat role after applying for conscientious objector status. His application was refused and he learned that he would be deployed to Iraq. In January 2004 he drove to Niagara Falls, crossing the border with his partner Nga Nguyen and son Liam.

Hinzman was the first American Iraq war resister to seek refuge in Canada. Since then many others have joined him here realizing that were they to stay in the United States, they would be punished for their moral, political and religious beliefs.

In the coming days, Hinzman is expected to receive notice that he will be deported. Like Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, who were deported by the Harper government and sentenced respectively to 15 and 12 months in prison, Hinzman will be jailed as a prisoner of conscience.

For what crime were Long and Cornell sentenced to a year or more in prison?

During Long's court martial, the only piece of evidence presented against him was a video of him speaking out against the Iraq war on Canadian television. For Cornell, it was a clip of him being interviewed on CNN.

Ninety-four per cent of U.S. military deserters are administratively discharged. Those who have had the courage to make their opposition to the war public, like Long and Cornell, are convicted as felons. In many states that means they will be stripped of the right to vote and in all cases it means they won't be permitted to return to Canada.

Ever since the Nuremberg Trials, a new principle has entered the realities of modern warfare: the argument that one must follow orders in all circumstances is no longer justified. Following orders is not the ultimate test of patriotism. This is especially true in the case of an illegal, immoral and, in Barack Obama's words, "a dumb war" like that which is still being fought in Iraq.

Our former prime minister Jean Chrétien refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq, in spite of all the dire consequences he was threatened with. To this day, Canadians continue to support that decision with what pollsters call "statistical unanimity."

As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I studied with many of those who came here because of resistance to the Vietnam War. They were allowed to stay and our country has been immensely enriched by this wave of immigrants who were willing to commit to the civil society that welcomed their ideas and values.

We would be a better country for welcoming Iraq war resisters, too.

In the last 11 months Parliament has twice voted for an end to these deportations. Our government has also been directed by the majority of MPs to establish a program to facilitate permanent resident status for Iraq war resisters.

Despite these democratic expressions of the will of the majority of Canadians, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refuses to take action to accept Iraq war resisters' requests to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

As citizens, Canadians have the choice of whether we are going to be a colony of empire or a country of conscience.

Our government emphasizes programs for immigrants who make money. We also need immigrants who make sense.

If you agree, please consider sending a letter to the Star in support: lettertoed@thestar.ca. Leaving a supportive comment on the Star's website is good, but emailing a letter is better.

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