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Protestors urge Canada to let U.S. war deserters stay

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In downtown Montreal Saturday, protestors called on the federal government to stop deporting U.S. soldiers who fled to Canada to avoid military service in Iraq. It was one of about 20 demonstrations that took place across the country in solidarity with U.S. military deserters.

Protestors in front of federal government offices at Complexe Guy-Favreau demanded the government abide by a resolution passed in the House of Commons on June 3 that called for the Harper government to stop deporting conscientious objectors – those who refused to participate in armed conflict based on moral, religious, or ethical convictions. It applied specifically to those who refused or left military service in a war not sanctioned by the United Nations, a reference to the U.S.-led Iraq war.

But as the resolution was non-binding, the minority Conservative government can legally ignore it.

Matt Jones, a spokesperson for the anti-war group Échec à la Guerre, said that giving refuge to military deserters sends a strong message to the U.S.

“If ever this law was passed [and] if resisters were allowed to be here, it would be a huge blow to the American military and their ability to fight a war, because it would give a green card to soldiers who have a conscience to get out of that system,” Jones said.

Bill Rogers, a spokesperson for the Conservative Party of Canada, defended the government’s stance on war resisters.

“We don’t think that the creation of a special program for war resisters is necessary, and it’s at odds with our belief that every applicant to Canada should be treated fairly and equally,” Rogers said.

“Once somebody brings their case to Canada and goes through our system here, which we believe is fair and internationally recognized, we accept those decisions.”

U.S. soldier Jeremy Hinzman and his family have an immediate stake in Canada’s policy.

Hinzman fled to Canada in 2004 after learning he would be deployed to Iraq, to fight in a war which he calls illegal and unjust.

Jones read a letter from Hinzman to protestors at the rally Saturday.

“Canada refused to take part in the war in Iraq because it felt it was illegal, according to international law. I was not willing to make myself complicit in a criminal enterprise,” Hinzman wrote.

Hinzman had initially volunteered for military service, but claimed later that he was incapable of killing another human being. He applied for conscientious-objector status, but his claim was ultimately rejected by the U.S. military. He completed his tour in Afghanistan as a non-combatant.

Hinzman received his deportation order last month, after his appeals to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds were rejected by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. He must leave Canada with his wife, son, and daughter by September 23.

The government’s refusal to abide by the resolution also led to the deportation of Robin Long, believed to be the first Iraq war resister to be handed over to the U.S. by Canadian authorities. A court martial in Colorado sentenced Long to a 15-month jail sentence and a dishonourable discharge, the equivalent of a felony conviction in the U.S.

Olivia Chow, a Toronto-area MP and the Immigration Critic for the NDP, argued that the refugee determination process is “completely broken.”

“We’ve had instances where people that were sent back to their home country have faced torture [and] had to go in hiding,” Chow said, adding that Canada has a history of providing refuge to U.S. soldiers.

“During the war in Vietnam, over 50,000 draft dodgers [and] war resisters came to Canada at that time and [none] during that period were deported,” asserted Chow.

But Rogers noted that Iraq war resisters in Canada were not drafted, throwing into question the legitimacy of their claims for refugee status.

“When you volunteer for military service, it means what it says: you volunteered, you signed up, and I don’t think there’s really much more to say about it,” he said.

Chow disagreed, and noted that some soldiers signed up to do humanitarian work with the National Guard or to defend the U.S. against weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.

Michael Hendricks, a Vietnam-era draft dodger who came to Canada in 1969, also spoke at the rally, and agreed that U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war were misinformed.

“These people that were in the U.S. Army, and realized that this was the wrong thing to do, were misled – in every sense of the word,” Hendricks said.

The Bush administration claimed Saddam Hussein – who was the president of Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion – possessed WMDs, but they were never found.

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