By Gerry Condon of Project Safe Haven and Courage to Resist.
On May 15, 2006, International Conscientious Objectors Day, a delegation organized by Courage to Resist and Project Safe Haven visited the Canadian Consulate in San Francisco. Here is what we learned in the process.
Ask for a meeting, or ask if you can just deliver a letter.
We called a week ahead of time and asked if we could deliver a letter addressed to Canadian government ministers. Because of the short time span and the relatively modest nature of our delegation, we were not sure the Consul would agree to receive us. But when we arrived to deliver our letter, we were pleasantly surprised to be invited upstairs for a meeting (once we were checked out and passed the test for being respectable and non-threatening).
We actually had a very helpful discussion. We learned that the U.S. government was telling the Canadians that soldiers who don’t want to go to war have options, such as applying for Conscientious Objector status. We explained to the Canadian Consul that the U.S. military’s Conscientious Objector system was “broken,” and we are providing the Canadian government with documentation of its limited and discriminatory nature.
Build a good delegation.
A broad delegation that includes representatives of church, labor, veterans, war resisters, and peace and community organizations is preferable in terms of its impact on the Canadian government and on educating our own communities. But a delegation representing a Friends Meeting would also be good. The delegation should include someone who has done their homework and understands the complex legal and political situation facing U.S. war resisters in Canada.You can find a comprehensive Counseling Memo, “AWOL in Canada,” on the website of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, http://resisters.ca/AWOL_in_Canada.pdf.
If possible, include an expert on international law
The legal and political arguments of U.S. war resisters and their Canadian supporters are based in international law. Those who refuse to fight in Iraq are obeying international law, including the Nuremberg Principles and the Geneva Conventions on War. The U.S. war on the people of Iraq is not a defensive war, nor was it sanctioned by the UN Security Council, the two criteria which must be satisfied in order to justify going to war (one reason why the Bush Administration tried so hard to manipulate the vote in the UN Security Council).
Write a strong, comprehensive, and diplomatic letter.
This is very important. Because your delegation may or may not ultimately be formally received by the Canadian Consul, the letter must speak for itself. It should be strong and comprehensive. It should explain that, although U.S. war resisters deserve refugee status in Canada, this is a very long, difficult and case-by-case process.We are therefore petitioning the Canadian government to find a creative way to provide sanctuary for war resisters.
Distribute the letter ahead of time for comments and signatures.
Send the letter around to prospective delegate members, well ahead of the planned delegation, to solicit their comments and their interest. Some people who may not be able join the delegation may still want to sign the letter. This will give the letter more clout. Just as important, it will help to educate people in our own communities and organizations, very few of whom are well informed about the situation of U.S. war resisters in Canada.
Invite media, but make your own media too.
Send out a press release and try to arrange interviews with print media, television and radio. Our visit to the Canadian Consulate did not receive any attention from the mainstream media, in part because of other actions planned for International Conscientious Objectors Day. Fortunately, however, we were prepared to make our own media. We showed up with a nice prop, an enlarged summary of our letter to Canada:
A media activist, Bill Carpenter, videotaped our statements after the meeting. He then made a short movie, which he posted on Indymedia, along with photos and other resources. View video and photos.
Californians Call for Sanctuary for U.S. War Resisters in Canada
By Gerry Condon, Project Safe Haven. May 30, 2006