john hagan: let's provide a haven

John Hagan is the author of Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada. He spoke at our event in January, coming in from Chicago to support the cause of war resisters in Canada.

John brings an important historical perspective which should inform the debate over Iraq War resisters. As the Conservatives repeat ad nauseum "but they volunteered" and "Vietnam was different," they would do well to study what John Hagan can teach us.

This piece will run in Saturday's Globe and Mail. Please follow the link and click yes for "recommend this article?" at the bottom of the story. It can help increase visibility.
Let's provide a haven for those who chose not to fight in Iraq

John Hagan
May 30, 2008

The Liberals' Bob Rae recently joined the NDP's Olivia Chow and others in urging Parliament to pass a motion allowing American Iraq war resisters, such as Corey Glass, to stay in Canada. Last week, Mr. Glass was refused refugee status and became the first Iraq war resister to be scheduled for deportation.

Mr. Rae and Ms. Chow's plea for action recalled Pierre Trudeau and David Lewis's leadership at crucial moments of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, it took several years to build support and acceptance for American military deserters, as well as draft resisters. Beginning in the mid-1960s, war resisters who came to Canada before being drafted ("dodgers") readily received landed immigrant status. But until 1969, military resisters ("deserters") were treated differently – because they left the armed forces and faced charges of desertion.

Allan MacEachen, as minister of immigration, initially directed immigration officers to refuse U.S. military resisters entry as landed immigrants. He reasoned that when such resisters left their units, they broke moral and legal contractual obligations to serve in their nation's armed forces.

Political and religious leaders ultimately persuaded Mr. MacEachen that distinctions between military and draft resisters were irrelevant for Canadian purposes. References to "dodgers" and "deserters" had no legal meaning in Canada. The Immigration Act made no reference of any kind to military service as grounds for prohibiting entry to Canada.

Canadians at the time questioned the Vietnam War, and Mr. Glass echoed those sentiments when he said last week "what I saw in Iraq convinced me that the war is illegal and immoral. I could not in good conscience continue to take part in it."

Ms. Chow and Mr. Rae recalled Canada's history of refuge and sanctuary when they spoke during a gathering in January at a United Church in Toronto. United Church, Mennonite, Jewish, Quaker, Unitarian and other religious groups support today's Iraq war resisters – just as they did the Vietnam War resisters 40 years ago. The gathering heard from such resisters as Kimberly Rivera, who brushed back tears as she expressed gratitude for her sanctuary with her young children in Canada. She explained that she joined the American military because she was jobless and needed health care for her children. It is tendentious to call her service a free or voluntary choice. Recruiters coaxed and lied to Ms. Rivera about a war she eventually concluded was immoral. U.S. government “stop-loss” orders have added and extended nearly 100,000 tours of service in Iraq, and this back-door draft is only one among many ways in which service in Iraq can be involuntary.

Late last year, Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis put forward a motion in Parliament's standing committee on citizenship and immigration to allow resisters of wars not sanctioned by the UN to stay in Canada. Opposition party MPs joined ranks to pass the motion, which should soon be brought to a vote in Parliament.

Minus such legislation, Iraq war resisters will be unable to legalize their status in Canada and will remain mired in the same bureaucratic process as Mr. Glass.

It's a never-ending story, as the Vietnam War migration to Canada shows. Even though president Jimmy Carter unconditionally pardoned American Vietnam draft resisters when he came to office, his pardon for military resisters required them to return to their units within six months to apply for a less-than-honourable discharge. Most Vietnam resisters in Canada refused the offer and remain here to this day. Stories of abuse in U.S. military prisons were rampant, and any who returned risked imprisonment. When retired Winnipeg mechanic Randall Caudill paid a short visit to his daughter in the U.S. in 1997, nearly 30 years after leaving the Marines and coming to Canada, he was arrested and held for trial. Following months of diplomatic inquiries by the Canadian government, he finally received a bad-conduct discharge and was allowed to return to his wife in Canada.

In an era of harsh interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and detention without trial, few American Vietnam or Iraq war resisters want to return to the United States. They just want to get on with their lives in Canada. Parliament can remedy the situation of Iraq war resisters by voting in favour of the motion recommending that a new generation of U.S. war resisters be allowed to apply for permanent residence so that they can stay in Canada.

I often wonder how things might have turned out differently in the spring of 1969. The government could have forced American Vietnam War resisters to leave the country; the RCMP could have forcibly delivered Vietnam-era resisters into the hands of American authorities.

Imagine today a YouTube video of the RCMP handing over Ms. Rivera and her young children to the U.S. authorities. Or worse, imagine this being done in secret. Yet this threat of deportation confronts Ms. Rivera and her fellow American Iraq war resisters. They could be turned over by Canadian authorities to the U.S. military for interrogation and punishment.

Ms. Chow and Mr. Rae, like Mr. Lewis and Mr. Trudeau before them, offer a leadership that rejects this fate while supporting the sovereign right of Canada to provide refuge and sanctuary to individuals who, like the UN and Canada, chose not to approve or join in the pre-emptive U.S. war in Iraq.

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