Canada shouldn’t deport military deserters from the Iraq war back to the U.S.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 06/06/2008 – 10:04am
In the last 70 years, Canada has helped out in a lot of wars alongside the United States: World War II, Korean War, the first Gulf War, and, of course, Afghanistan.
There are two wars missing from that list: Vietnam and the Iraq War. And despite what Ann Coulter says, Canada wasn’t in Vietnam. Canada is willing to go to war, but if Canada doesn’t enter a war, there are probably some very bad reasons for going to war.
When some U.S. young men didn’t want to go in the draft to Vietnam, they went to Canada. And Canada welcomed them. The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau didn’t have an issue with the protesters. According to the War Resisters Support Campaign, between 50,000 and 80,000 Americans sought refuge in Canada during the U.S. war in Vietnam.
But quietly, there is a new revolution of U.S. young people who are also selecting Canada. Of course, there is no draft, but these are U.S. soldiers who decided they just couldn’t do it anymore. And unlike the Trudeau government, the Conservative government of current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn’t holding out the welcome mat.
In response, the Canadian House of Commons passed a non-binding resolution by a 137-110 vote to “immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members . . . to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.”
The three other parties that have seats in Canada’s Parliament: the Liberals, New Democratic Party, and Bloc Quebecois, voted for the resolution. The Conservatives, who have a minority government, voted against the resolution. This is why the legislation is non-binding.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter established programs not just for war resisters but for military absentees and AWOLs. This from the American Friends Service Committee:
Similarly, military deserters and AWOL’s could apply for a limited pardon if there were no other charges pending. Under the Carter program deserters would automatically receive a less than honorable discharge (“Undesirable”), but could apply for an upgrade later. The upgrade would not be automatic and few veterans received them. They were barred from receiving veterans benefits, unlike many other vets with less than honorable discharges. Military resisters had to apply for relief within a certain time frame, about 5-6 months, during 1977. Only 4,200 of them were considered eligible for the program; less than 25% of them were processed and received the less-than-honorable discharge. The program allowed for a case-by-case review of potentially another 430,000 cases of veterans with bad discharges; yet only 16,277 benefited from this procedure.
Provided Barack Obama wins in November, he will have to decide what to do about those soldiers who did leave for Canada.
Canada has established its role on the world stage as a moral center in the 70 years where it has had that power. The first time Canada was able to declare war was WWII, but before 1931, Canada didn’t have the power to declare war.
It took great moral courage to stand up for what was right and not send troops to Vietnam. And in 2003, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien showed that same courage and refused to allow Canadian troops to fight in Iraq.
Prime Minister Harper has not shown moral courage, but more like wanting to suck up to George W. Bush. And his response is to send U.S. soldiers back to the United States, such as Corey Glass, a 25-year-old deserter who came to Canada two years ago and who faces deportation by June 12.
It hasn’t been just war deserters either: Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin were banned from Canada for being convicted in the United States of peaceful, non-violent protests against the war on Iraq.
It is not in the instinct for soldiers or potential soldiers to not fight in a war, and it is not the instinct of countries to avoid war. So when the instinct kicks in, we really need to pay attention and respect those decisions. If we get progressive leadership in this country, we can get the troops home and properly deal with the military deserters. But we also need to nudge Canada, and specifically the Conservative government, to reflect back on the country’s long-time status as a moral center in the world.