amnesty international, former irb chair decry harper govt interference in refugee process

Canadian Press:
Outlast Harper, likely stay in Canada, Chow tells war deserters

American war deserters may get to stay in Canada if they outlast the federal Conservative government, New Democrat MP Olivia Chow said on Saturday.

Chow's comments came as the Americans met with their supporters to try to decide what to do next after a bill that would've allowed the deserters to stay in Canada was defeated in Parliament earlier this month.

Chow says her party and the Bloq Quebecois are in favour of letting the Americans stay.

"There would be a chance if the Conservatives lose power in this election, (deserters) might still be in Canada I hope," Chow said in an interview from Ottawa.

"I suspect we might have a spring election so their fate is in the hands of some of the Liberals and Conservative MPs," she said.

Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the deserters, said about 80 Canadians and Americans gathered for a panel discussion on Saturday in the Ontario border town of Fort Erie.

They hope to gain support by educating people about the reasons why deserters moved north instead of following deployment orders to Iraq, Robidoux said.

"When people hear what it is that motivated them, but also what they've given up to seek asylum in Canada, I think it's obvious to most people that Canada should let them stay and not send them to face punishment in jail," she said.

Drop war-resister policy: rights activists

A new immigration policy is denying American war resisters due process, human rights advocates say, and they are calling on the government to rescind it.

About 200 U.S. soldiers who fled the Iraq war are in Canada, and the recently introduced policy singles out their refugee claims for special attention. The policy, called Operational Bulletin 202, says that because deserting the military is a crime, the war resisters may not be eligible for asylum.

War resister Phil McDowell said he will never forget the day he decided to flee to Canada.

"It was a difficult decision to make, thinking I might not ever go back or see my family again," McDowell said.

McDowell came to Toronto four years ago. He had just finished a year-long tour in Iraq, and didn't like what he saw there.

"Just the general resentment toward the population. . . a real racist sentiment toward the Iraqis that I felt uncomfortable with," he said.

McDowell was ordered to go back to Iraq for another tour of duty, but he refused. "I was looking for justification to convince myself we were there for good reasons, but the more I looked the clearer it became that that just wasn't the case," he said.

Upon his arrival in Canada, he applied for refugee status.

However, any conscientious objector from the United States faces the new guidelines when they seek the protection McDowell sought.

The guidelines instruct immigration officers to red-flag U.S. military deserters and contact a supervising authority rather than deal with the cases themselves. There are some concerns it could be applied retroactively.

Peter Showler, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a former chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board for three years, said the policy "smacks of government interference." [Ed note: Here is Peter Showler's response to Bulletin 202.]

He said each case should be decided on independently and on its own merits.

"What it is telling immigration officers is: Don't you dare make a positive decision without our seeing it first," Showler said. "There's going to be a lot of institutional pressure not to make positive decisions in cases where, manifestly, they should be positive."

In a recent letter, Amnesty International Canada urged Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, to withdraw Bulletin 202.

"It gives rise to the very real concern that this a way of managing the cases in a way which is going to ensure that a maximum number are not accepted," said Alex Neve, Amnesty's secretary general.

And, believe it or not, a good story on Operational Bulletin 202 in the National Post.

Your letters in response to these stories are needed - and important. Write to the National Post here. You know voices of reason are always needed at that venue.

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