Have the years since the Vietnam War really made us that much more timid as a people?
A generation ago, Canada accepted thousands of "draft-dodgers" and also thousands of resisters who left active military service in the United States because of that conflict.
Today, the Canadian government of the day resorts to smears and innuendo to stifle even a debate on our reaction to the 200-300 American service people from the Iraq War who are looking for asylum in Canada, with official spokespersons throwing around vile words like rapists and terrorists. It is sad, the Harper government doesn't have the courage of its convictions to debate the issue openly on its merits but sadder still if Canadians don't insist on such a debate.
The facts of my private member's bill, Bill C-440, are plain: It would create grounds for humanitarian consideration for permanent residence in Canada. The narrow grounds would be a finding of genuine moral or conscientious objection to leave the armed services in a war not sanctioned by the United Nations (such as the Iraq War), and subject to compulsion by way of return to service or stop-loss (a controversial U. S. measure that forced military personnel back into war zones even after their service was concluded). All the other protections to screen out unwelcome elements remain in place; anyone who has a prior criminal record would not be considered (eliminating the rapist canard raised by the Harper government). National security or human rights concerns, or even considerations of health, finances or inadmissible family members, would also all still be criteria used to screen people.
The purpose of my bill is clear: to let a Canadian sensibility prevail with respect to the U. S. service people who were in a moral quandary because of the Iraq War. The House of Commons has already pronounced in favour of Iraq War resisters on two occasions. The Harper government, however, has poisoned the fairness of tribunal hearings with public pronouncements calling people "cowards" and "illegitimate claimants" by the same minister who hires and fires the officials who hear the claims.
I have been impressed by the sense of honour that is evident when I meet Iraq war resisters in my riding and across the country, and the significant sacrifices they have made in leaving their country of birth and the U. S. armed services they had served, some for decades. Similarly, I have been impressed with the selfless character of the hard-working all-volunteer support group of Canadians who have taken up their cause. I contrast these qualities with the reprehensible tactics of the officials from the Harper government. The damage is not to war resisters but to all Canadians who from time to time should join the discussion of who we collectively welcome to become Canadians and why.
I encourage all Canadians to be neither fooled nor intimidated by the Harper government's attempted manipulations and join the debate on whichever side they choose but in the spirit of open discussion in which this bill is intended.
m.p. gerard kenney responds to national post
The National Post, predictably, has been running editorials opposing Bill C-440, which would allow US war resisters to stay in Canada. Today Gerard Kennedy, who put forth the bill, replies.