You'll recall that Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley has been avoiding these meetings like toxic cold cuts. But the bad publicity she's received for ducking her constituents has worked its magic. She showed up in Caledonia, and she showed up in Simcoe.
Campaigner Tom Riley wrote this report of their evening. And of course, video is below, thanks to Alex.
On Wednesday, October 8, 2008, Alex Lisman, the videographer for the War Resister Support Campaign, Chuck Wiley, a war resister, and myself set out in Chuck's car to go to Simcoe, Ontario to an all-candidates' meeting in Diane Finley's riding. Diane Finley had missed two all-candidates' meetings but she did show up for the meeting in Caledonia where the First Nations issue is the main focus. (Apparently, she had a rough time from the audience re: her lack of visibility and accessibility.) So we were not sure whether she would be at the meeting but we felt we needed to be visible again in her riding. Especially since Patrick Hart, his wife, Jill, and their son, Rian, had received the decision, earlier in the day, that they were to leave the country by October 30th or else they would be deported.
We left Toronto around 4:00 p.m. and it was raining. The meeting was to start at 7:00 p.m. so we figured the two-hour trip would get us there in plenty of time. Because of the weather and the traffic at that time of day, the trip took an agonizing three hours.
The meeting was being held at the Park Place Banquet Centre in Simcoe. We arrived in the parking lot about 7:05 p.m. and were amazed how many cars there were. It was still raining, so we jumped out of the car and Chuck and I changed into our War Resisters' T-shirts and Alex got his video equipment together. We entered the hall and were amazed at the crowd - about 150 to 200 people. As we arrived, the moderator was talking about the protocol when people asked questions at the microphone. We were delighted because we had heard that the questions had been decided on before hand. They were also taking written questions from the floor, so Chuck handed one in. (It was never chosen.)
We weren't sure how supportive the crowd would be re: the war resister issue. Shortly after we arrived, I had to go to the washroom, which was up at the front and to the side of the candidates' table. As I made my way through the crowd to the washroom and back, I saw people checking out my T-shirt.
As we stood in the back of the hall listening to the opening remarks from the candidates, a fellow came up and shook my hand and said he supported the war resisters and that he was a Vietnam war resister. I told him I was too. Shortly after, a person from Dr. Eric Hoskins' campaign (the Liberal candidate) came up and said they had received the e-mail from the War Resisters Support Campaign (that Lee Zaslofsky had sent). As we listened to the questions and the answers from the candidates, we realized that there were a lot of Liberal supporters in the crowd and also, that they were not very fond of Diane Finley.
At the break, we put a war resisters flyer on each table where people were sitting and also put flyers on the campaign tables of the NDP, the Liberals, and the Green Party. Then we joined the line for the questions at the mike. I was the second person to ask a question and Chuck was a few spots behind me in the line!!! This was the closest I had ever been to Diane Finley and knew that this was a great
opportunity to ask her about the war resisters in an open forum.
My question pertained to the motion passed in Parliament on June 3rd, the polls that indicate the majority of Canadians support the war resisters and do not support the war in Iraq, and to the fact that she and Stephen Harper had deported a war resister in July and were continuing to try and deport other war resisters. My question asked why they refused to follow the will of the people and what was happening to Canadian democracy and Canadian sovereignty. There was great applause!!! Diane Finley stated her pat answer about the refugee process and the opportunity for appeals, etc. The Liberal, NDP and Green Party candidates spoke very favourably about the war resisters and that they should be allowed to stay.
When Chuck spoke to the audience about his decision to come to Canada, you could tell that people were interested. Chuck tied in his decision not to be involved in the Iraq war with Stephen Harper's statement, during the debate, that it was a mistake to have gone into Iraq. He asked how can they deport himself and other resisters who felt like Stephen Harper, that the war was a mistake. Great applause
once again. Diane Finley, I think, again talked about the refugee process and that the resisters would be prosecuted, not persecuted in the US.
The questions directed specifically to Diane Finley were asking about her lack of visibility and involvement in Caledonia, the lack of follow through with constituents, etc. She was taking heat from a lot of people.
At the closing statements, the moderator mentioned that the candidates would stay around afterwards, in case people had questions that were not answered during the meeting. I was standing at the door at the back of the hall handing out flyers as people were leaving. All of a sudden about six OPP officers came in. After the closing remarks were done, the OPP escorted Diane Finley out the side door so people could not ask her any questions. Similar to Stephen Harper's modus operandi.
We were glad that we made the trek to Simcoe and that we let Diane Finley know that we will continue to be in her face and that we are not going away until the resisters are allowed to stay.