war resisters in canada: a debate

This ran in both the Calgary and Toronto Sun papers.
Dodgy manoeuvres
Are American soldiers seeking to stay in Canada heroes or villains?

By Kerry Thompson and Lyn Cockburn

Should U.S. soldiers who flee to Canada to avoid fighting be allowed to stay? Columnist Lyn Cockburn says yes, in the spirit of Vietnam draft dodgers. But Sun Media's Kerry Thompson gives that argument a one-finger salute.

THOMPSON: A lot of people compare this situation to Vietnam, reminding us that Canada welcomed U.S. draft dodgers. What they forget to mention is that these most recent war resisters weren't drafted, they knew what they were signing on to and the consequences if they decided to leave their units.

COCKBURN: Rubbish. No one knew they were signing up for a war based on lies. George W. Bush promised weapons of mass destruction and there were none. This was an unjust war that prompted some soldiers to refuse to serve in Iraq. Some went to the stockade, some to Canada and we ought to have supported their decision.

THOMPSON: I'm not going to argue this wasn't an unjust war, but I don't think signing up for military duty means picking and choosing where you go. I would hope every person joining the military thinks about what they might be called on to do, and the consequences if they refuse.

COCKBURN: Volunteer soldiers are morally bound to go where they're told? I don't think so. Neither does Brandon Hughey, a deserter ordered deported from Canada. "I feel if a soldier is given an order he knows to not only be illegal, but immoral as well, then it is his responsibility to refuse that order," he said. Exactly.

THOMPSON: Fine, refuse the order, but accept the consequences and take responsibility for your actions in your own country. The "persecution" these deserters claim they'll face if they're sent back to the U.S., and not granted refugee status, is minor compared to what some refugee claimants would face if ordered home.

COCKBURN: Canada rightly did not send soldiers to Iraq, so logically, Canada ought to step up and support those American soldiers who refuse to participate in an immoral, if not criminal, war. It is disingenuous to suggest that it's OK to deport these Americans because they'll face less persecution than say, Iranians.

THOMPSON: If the deserters want to make their voices heard on the Iraq war, they can take a stand -- at home. There are guidelines that are in place for granting refugee status. The persecution the deserters say they'll face (jail, one deported deserter is already out after serving a 12-month sentence in the U.S.) does not meet the criteria.

COCKBURN: Bargain! If a soldier refuses duty in an immoral war he should man up and do 12 months in the slammer as penance. Something is missing here, it's called logic. Any soldier with the courage to say no to injustice should be given a medal -- or at least haven in another country!

THOMPSON: Then let an anti-war organization in the U.S. give them a medal -- when they return and accept responsibility for their decision. Again, they signed up, voluntarily, and would have known the consequences for deserting. There are plenty of other refugees who need our help and on whom resources would be better spent.

COCKBURN: Why is Canada wasting money trying to find and deport war resister Brad McCall, 23, who refused to go to Iraq to "commit war crimes." Now he's gone into hiding near Vancouver after seven RCMP officers showed up at his apartment. Is Canada a little too eager to appease our American big bro?

THOMPSON: Oh, so you'd rather we spend money providing services to deserters who have been ordered home after numerous fair hearings, court cases and every other avenue of appeal they could find? That doesn't sound much better. A deportation order is a deportation order.

COCKBURN: All three opposition immigration critics recently urged the government "to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war not sanctioned by the United Nations." Instead, the Tories prefer to waste time and money during a recession chasing after principled young people who are harming no one.

THOMPSON: And if we show compassion for the U.S. war deserters, who's going to deal with the other deportees who want to stay because we sympathize with their plight, even if they don't fit the bill for refugee status? Calls for compassion need to be directed to the U.S. military.

COCKBURN: And if we don't show compassion for war resisters, whom will we feel free to deny next? Czechs and Mexicans? Maybe we can find some fine print to keep out everyone we don't quite approve of. We have made exceptions to refugee rules in the past and we need to do so again.

THOMPSON: We can show compassion, and I do feel for these people, but their refugee claims simply don't fit the bill. We'd just be opening the door to every American soldier who doesn't want to serve anymore, because of a moral objection to whatever it is they've been asked to do. That's not our job.

COCKBURN: What good is compassion without action? Canada has a great opportunity here to take a moral stand and let these resisters stay -- if only as guests for a year or so. But no, we've already deported at least six and we're chasing a couple more. Seems vindictive, not to mention a waste of resources.

THOMPSON: What's the use of letting them stay for a year, so they can get even more comfortable here? Sorry, but it's time to shape up and ship out -- home.

COCKBURN: Rounding up those big bad deserters instead of acknowledging the Iraq war is based on lies and has resulted in countless needless deaths is so easy, so NIMBY. Instead of hiding behind our present arbitrary refugee policy, we ought to rethink it. Show some moral backbone, Canada!

Many thanks to Lyn Cockburn. Excellent stuff. Please take a moment to write supportive letters: cal-letters@calgarysun.com and torsun.editor@sunmedia.ca.

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