By Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist. November 19, 2007
Last week the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear appeals from US war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey seeking refuge in Canada. The War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada immediately staged protests in six cities and announced plans to ramp up pressure for a political solution, focusing on a forthcoming debate in the Canadian Parliament.
In collaboration with these efforts, Courage to Resist has sent thousands of letters to Canadian officials on behalf of individual signers of our “Dear Canada: Let US War Resisters Stay” appeal. What we do now by expanding these efforts could make all of the difference for the future of hundreds of Iraq and Afghan War sanctuary seekers and their families currently in Canada.
Hinzman and Hughey were among the first Iraq War resisters to arrive in Canada in 2004. Their case for political refugee status rested on the fact that the US invasion and occupation is illegal under both US and international law. Based on the United Nations convention on refugees, they should not be prosecuted for refusing to fight in an illegal conflict. Canada’s Immigration Review Board and the Canadian courts, however, denied a hearing on these facts.
“The immigration board said, with input from the government, that the illegality of the war is irrelevant to these immigration claims,” said Michelle Robidoux, a Toronto-based activist. “We believe it is very much connected.” (MSNBC 11/15/07)
Gerry Condon deserted the US Army in 1969 and lived in Canada for three years. Today he travels extensively as part of Project Safe Haven. “While the refusal of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the appeals is very disappointing, the struggle for sanctuary in Canada is being stepped up. All along, we have known that a political solution was ultimately what would be needed.” Condon added, “While the sanctuary campaign ramps up in Canada, we in the US can seize this moment to become much more supportive.”
A recent poll in Ontario found that 64.6% of Canadians favored allowing US war resisters to stay, while only 27.2% thought they should be returned to the US (Strategic Communications, June 2007). This support is reflected among opposition party parliamentarians. Two opposition parties have expressed clear support for the war resisters.
Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign explained, “What we need is for the Liberal Party as a whole to take a stance on this. Together (the three parties) have a majority, and if they act together they can put something through the House of Commons.” This is a real possibility despite the hard line taken by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a close friend of the Bush Regime and the so-called “Global War on Terror”.
In the past few years, tens of thousands of service members have resisted illegal war and occupation. The Army admitted this week that there has been an 80% increase in soldiers going AWOL in the last few years. Although Canada has been a destination for only a small fraction of these resisters (between 200 to 300), it’s been an invaluable refuge for servicemembers with families and those that did not have the support of their families back home.
Kimberly Rivera went to Canada instead of returning to Iraq while home on leave in January 2007. “If we had doubts about our decision; we didn’t once we passed the border. We know all that we left behind: our families, our things in Colorado, our life, our home, our country, and our pride,” she explained from her new home in Toronto. “The most important thing was for us to live as a happy, safe family with both parents in the picture.”
Many who have travelled to Canada simply saw no other option. Brandon Hughey, in the documentary Breaking Ranks, recalls his thoughts of suicide prior to going AWOL. On crossing the Canadian border, Hughey expressed, “I feel like a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders.” Courage to Resist has heard many similar accounts from servicemembers who believed they had nowhere to turn prior to finding help.
In fact, the military announced last week that suicide rates are now higher than any time in the last 26 years. This is based on data over two years old, compiled prior to 60,000 soldiers being “stop-lossed” or otherwise involuntarily extended to shore up “the surge”.
Ryan Johnson, an AWOL US soldier living in Nelson, British Columbia, noted this morning, “This is not the first negative legal decision for us. Every time the media proclaims that it’s the end, but we’re still here and more resisters keep arriving.”
No AWOL service person has yet been deported from Canada. However, that can now change quickly unless we add our voices as people living in the United States in favor of our war resisters to the debate well underway within Canada.
What we do now can make a difference. Sign the appeal, “Dear Canada: Let US War Resisters Stay!” and visit our campaign resource page for materials to get involved today.