Canada Lawmakers Ask Harper to Let War Resisters Stay (Update2)
By Greg Quinn
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Canadian opposition lawmakers urged the government to freeze deportations of U.S. soldiers who fled to Canada after refusing to fight in Iraq, passing a non- binding resolution to pressure Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Opposition parties with a majority of seats in Parliament asked the government to allow ``conscientious objectors'' to wars not sanctioned by the United Nations, such as the Iraq conflict, to apply for permanent resident status. The resolution urges the Conservative Party government to stop deportations ordered by immigration tribunals. The motion passed by 137 to 110, with the Conservatives voting against.
Harper, who came to power in 2006 promising improved relations with the U.S., hasn't tried to overturn any tribunal decisions ordering U.S. resisters deported. Today's vote conjures up controversial images from the Vietnam War era, when Canada took in thousands of Americans seeking to avoid being drafted or serving when called.
``It is significant, and it would be flouting parliamentary process if the government were to ignore it,'' Sharry Aiken, a law professor specializing in immigration at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said by telephone. ``It's not all that difficult for the government to oblige the motion. It doesn't give them status, it allows them to apply for status.''
Like Vietnam, today there is ``a lot of opposition'' to the Iraq war across Canada yet the government is reluctant to give in to early pressure and let resisters stay, she said.
So far, fewer than 40 Americans have claimed refugee status in Canada because they object to fighting in the Iraq War, according to Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Canada's immigration department in Ottawa. The five people who agreed to release details of their cases were denied, she said.
Canadian law requires refugee claimants to demonstrate a ``well-founded fear of persecution'' such as torture or death should they be sent back to their home countries, Norris said. Officials also rely on a UN handbook that says they should consider whether soldiers were drafted into service or volunteered, as in the case of Iraq, she said.
The U.S. Army's maximum penalty for desertion is five years in confinement, dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and benefits, according to information e-mailed by Maj. Nathan Banks, an army spokesman in Washington.
Banks declined to comment on the Canadian motion. The U.S. embassy in Ottawa referred a telephone call seeking comment to the military.
The Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign
estimates there are as many as 200 American Iraq war resisters in Canada. According to a May 22 report in the Toronto Star
, 25-year-old Corey Glass is the lone resister ordered deported whose departure has been scheduled.
Glass said in a statement from Ottawa that he's ``thankful to all the Canadians who urged their MPs to support us,'' using the abbreviation for Member of Parliament.
Former Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chretien
in 2003 refused to send troops to join the war in Iraq because the invasion wasn't backed by the UN, breaking with the U.S. and U.K., traditionally Canada's closest allies. Another Liberal prime minister, Pierre Trudeau
, welcomed Vietnam War objectors after his predecessor Lester B. Pearson
failed to persuade the U.S. to find a mediated settlement to the conflict.
Canada took in between 50,000 and 80,000 Americans during the war in Southeast Asia, according to the War Resisters Support Campaign. Canada's immigration department didn't have figures immediately available on that era.
``We have been undertaking political action and public mobilization in order to get a political solution to the problem, and that's what the vote is about,'' said Lee Zaslofsky, national coordinator for the war resisters' group. Before the vote, he said it would be ``a very big breakthrough for the campaign and the war resisters if the elected representatives of the Canadian people speak on their behalf.''
Zaslofsky, 63, came to Canada from the U.S. in 1970 and sought permanent resident status, after finishing military training in South Carolina and being ordered to report for duty in Vietnam.
``You could apply right at the border,'' he said, adding that the paperwork took just 45 minutes. ``It was surprisingly easy.''
David Biette, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said while the motion likely won't hurt relations with the U.S., it might raise eyebrows among critics of Canada's immigration policies.
``People who follow immigration and refugee policy in Canada will certainly notice,'' he said. ``There are some people who will say Canada let too many of the wrong kind of people in.''Jack Layton
, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said while he's not optimistic the vote will succeed in making Harper change his position, doing so wouldn't affect ties with the U.S.
``Canadians have always taken independent positions,'' he said. ``If anything, I think that that elevates the respect in which many Americans hold Canadians.''
Tim Vail, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Diane Finley
, didn't immediately answer a phone call seeking comment on how the government may proceed in light of the vote.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Quinn
in Ottawa at email@example.com
. Last Updated: June 3, 2008 17:29 EDT