As you know, on Wednesday, Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would have allowed US war resisters to stay in Canada, was defeated in second reading by seven votes.
It was a terrible shock to everyone who had worked so tirelessly to get the bill through, including MP Gerard Kennedy. Kennedy did everything he could to see this bill pass, and he was blindsided by the results.
We were angry, and hurt, and sad. Many of us were especially angry at a dozen Liberal MPs who were in the House of Commons for the vote on the long-form census, but left before the C-440 vote.
This is understandable, and I initially shared that anger. But now I've refocused my sights on the real culprit: the Harper Government.
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First, let's review what we were up against.
Most private member's bills do not pass. That's a given. This one sought to change the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a pillar of Canadian law - a tall order. The political atmosphere in Parliament is, to put it mildly, highly fractious. We've heard some reports on what went on behind the scenes during the five votes in Wednesday's House of Commons - the political infighting, the vindictiveness, the accusations and threats. It was intense - and in the larger picture, quite sad and scary.
Given all those obstacles, C-440 was defeated by only seven votes. The war resisters have a lot of political support.
It's still a setback; I obviously understand that. But it's not a repudiation of what we're fighting for. 136 Members of Parliament, from all three opposition parties, voted in favour of allowing US war resisters to stay in Canada, and several who were not present for the vote also support the idea. That 136 is actually a greater number than voted for the second motion in favour of war resisters, passed in March, 2009. Our support has not decreased: it has increased.
The bill had some obvious flaws - and the reason it was flawed, the roots of the problem, are Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney and the rest of the Conservative government, who ignored two recommendations passed by a united Opposition, calling on the government to stop deporting war resisters and let them apply for permanent residence. The motions were clear, focused and direct. They contained none of the pitfalls that had to be written into the bill; they required no reconfiguration of IRPA. It doesn't take a law. All we need is a provision.
Our obstacle is the arrogant, hypocritical, undemocratic, war-loving, fear-mongering Harper government. That's what we should focus on. That is our fight.
If you live in a Liberal, NDP or Bloc riding, I encourage you, as citizens and as voters, to learn how your MP voted: look here. Then contact your MP and either thank her or him, or ask why she or he didn't vote. If you're a Liberal voter - or if you might ever be one - I encourage you to contact Michael Ignatieff, and express whatever you need to express. That's your right as a resident of Canada and I hope you will exercise it.
At last night's meeting, I heard some stories about how key votes have been influenced by constituent pressure, and by MPs learning that they do have support, that they will not be hung out to dry if they vote in favour of any given bill. Your voice makes a difference.
But in the larger picture, the entire issue of deporting war resisters and refusing to implement the two motions lies at the Conservatives' doorstep.
On the one hand, they have forced the war resisters to fight their battles individually through the refugee system - a drawn-out, expensive process, conducted with Minister Jason Kenney's thumb squarely on the scales, as he has politicized the process so thoroughly that all decisions are tainted and no justice can ever be attained. The Canadian courts have consistently affirmed this, most recently in the positive decision in Jeremy Hinzman's humanitarian and compassionate application.
And on the other hand, when a majority of Parliamentarians seek to remove the resisters from the refugee system and courts, by passing a simple provision that would allow them to stay, the government ignores it. The same way they always ignore the will of the majority of Canadians.
The bottom line is: we are not giving up.
If you believe Canada should be a peaceful nation - if you want to live in a Canada that provides a refuge from US militarism - if you believe Canadian policy should reflect Canadian sensibilities, not be a lapdog of the Pentagon - then stand with us.
In the coming weeks and months, the war resisters will need your support more than ever. The Campaign will need phone calls, letters to MPs, letters to newspapers, public actions, and we will desperately need funds. This is about the fate of people and families, but it is also about what kind of country we want Canada to be.
Let Them Stay!