We should welcome U.S. war resisters as refugees
Canadians made the right decision in refusing to participate in the Iraq war. Since the invasion six years ago, polls have shown that our opposition to that war has only grown. Prime Minister Stephen Harper admitted during the last election that the Iraq war was "absolutely an error" because the reasons for provoking it were false. It's no wonder, then, that the majority of Canadians agree that we should welcome U. S. soldiers who have refused to fight in Iraq because they've reached the same conclusion as we have.
In 2008, Parliament voted for an immediate program to allow U. S. Iraq war resisters to become permanent residents. Instead the Harper government has pushed ahead with deportations. Operating as though the opinion of the majority of Canadians is meaningless, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has publicly prejudiced the chances of fair Immigration and Refugee Board hearings by referring to war resisters as "bogus refugee claimants."
One of the arguments Minister Kenney has repeated is that the situation today is different from the Vietnam War, when a draft was in effect. But many of the Vietnam-era resisters who were permitted to remain in Canada after refusing to fight in that conflict on grounds of conscience, were deserters, meaning that they voluntarily signed a contract with the U. S. military. It didn't matter then, and it doesn't matter now.
Despite what Matt Gurney says ( "Two kinds of war resister," July 30), a soldier's contractual commitment does not supersede the soldier's moral obligation to his or her fellow human beings to refrain from engaging in military action that involves gross human-rights violations. The U. S. military has committed widespread human-rights violations in Iraq, including torture, and has even admitted to it. Many of the U. S. war resisters in Canada served one or more tours of duty in Iraq and personally witnessed these violations -- hence they are morally opposed to returning. It is wrong and absurd to imprison people for refusing to commit, or aid in the commission of, human-rights violations, regardless of any contractual obligations they may have.
Furthermore, a voluntarily contracted military service is not legally relevant to whether a resister is a refugee under international law -- any suggestions to the contrary are simply incorrect. And contractual obligations cannot include a requirement to perform illegal actions.
Canada was not punished economically for welcoming resisters during the Vietnam War. In fact, Canada realized a net benefit from the thousands of talented Americans -- including doctors, businesspeople and artists -- whom historians have called the "best-educated group this country had ever received." And despite saying "no" to sending our troops to Iraq, we continue to be a key trading partner of the United States.
I would expect that if a Canadian soldier were ordered to be associated with torture or human-rights violations, she would refuse this order. It would be wrong for our government to imprison her for doing so. I expect no less of our U. S. neighbours, regardless of our trade interdependence. Economic considerations can never be accepted as justification for surrendering basic moral standards and respect for human rights.
Geraldine Sadoway is an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and a staff lawyer and instructor at Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto, with expertise in immigration, refugee and human-rights law.
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