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CANADA'S ELECTION: GOOD OR BAD FOR U.S. WAR RESISTERS?
By Lee Zaslofsky
STEPHEN HARPER AND THE WAR RESISTERS
To our knowledge, neither Stephen Harper, the new Canadian Prime
Minister, nor any other prominent Conservatives have commented directly
on US war resisters in Canada. Harper supported the US invasion of Iraq
and said at the time that he wished Canada had joined it. More recently
he has changed his views, realizing that 80% of Canadians are glad that
Canada did not join Bush's invasion. Now he says he does not support
sending Canadian troops to Iraq. Harper does support the deployment of
several thousand Canadian troops to Afghanistan, a move undertaken
without fanfare by the Liberal Government he is replacing. Already
there have been Canadian casualties, and we can expect more. Harper may
try to rouse Canadians to wish for revenge against those who attack our
troops, and will discourage debate about Canada's commitment in
Afghanistan by using the tried and true smear about "cut and run" and
calls to "support our troops" that are familiar to Americans.
So we can expect a Harper Government to promote Canada's military, and
to try to spread a militarist perspective among Canadians so they will
support much larger expenditure on "defense", while "supporting our
troops" no matter what reckless decisions he makes to deploy them. It
must be said that in this, Harper will be building on the Liberals'
policies, and he can no doubt expect support from them in Parliament on
"defense" related issues.
NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE FOR WAR RESISTERS
While the above comments might make it seem that Canada under a Harper
Government will become much more difficult for US war resisters, the
truth is that there is little reason to think so.
In the immediate future, nothing will change. Canada's immigration and
refugee processes will remain in place. Customs officials will still
allow US citizens, including war resisters, to enter Canada without
problems. Refugee claimants will still be given work permits and access
to Canada's health care system. War resisters will still be able to
travel throughout Canada, speak out, and live as they have been doing
without fear of government or other harassment.
We continue to encourage any war resisters now in Canada to contact us
and let us assist them with legal advice and in other ways. We will
continue to welcome and offer support to any member of the US military
who comes to Canada to seek sanctuary because of her/his opposition to
the Iraq War.
LONGER TERM PROSPECTS FOR US WAR RESISTERS
The minority Harper Government will find it difficult to make any
negative changes in the situation of war resisters in Canada. We have
strong support from the NDP, which experienced major gains in the
recent election. We can rely on NDP MPs to keep a careful eye on this
issue and to intervene where necessary on behalf of the war resisters.
In particular we have close ties with NDP Leader Jack Layton, and NDP
MPs Bill Siksay, Alexa McDonough, Joe Comartin, Libby Davies, Jean
Crowder, Olivia Chow, Peter Julian, Denise Savoie and others.
We have also found a good deal of support among Liberals, who will now
be able to voice their support more freely as members of the Official
Opposition. One recent example is a statement by former Environment
Minister Stephane Dion, in answer to a question posed during the
election by a Montreal supporter of the War ResistersCampaign. When
asked if he supports a provision being made to allow resisters to stay,
he replied that he does. (Oddly enough, so did the Conservative at that
Mr. Dion's comment is only one of a number of supportive comments we
have received from Liberal MPs. We have also had supportive comments
from members of the Bloc Quebecois, which strongly opposed the invasion
of Iraq. Unfortunately Conservatives have not been as supportive as
the other parties.
There is always the possibility that the new Government will make
behind-the-scenes moves against war resisters. For example, they might
instruct Customs officials to refuse them entry to Canada. They might
apply pressure to have the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) speed up
its process to shorten the time war resisters gain as they wait for
hearings, decisions, etc. They might make public statements designed to
mobilize Canadians against the war resisters, and to suggest to
government officials that they are not to treat war resisters fairly.
We are naturally concerned about such moves, but we believe that they
are unlikely. It would be extremely difficult for Canada Customs
officials to make special efforts to look out for US war resisters,
since they must deal with thousands of Americans entering Canada every
day. The IRB is always trying to speed up its processes, but the nature
of refugee determination is that it requires time to schedule hearings
and consider claims. Nasty public comments will quickly draw fire from
other politicians and from the Campaign and its supporters, and make
the Tories look too pro-American -- an impression Harper wants to
As to the more drastic actions some people have wondered about -- US
bounty hunters, secret swoops by immigration officials, demands from
Bush to Harper personally, FBI contacts with the RCMP -- these are more
in the realm of fantasy than of reality. None of these occurred during
the Vietnam War, when over 50,000 Americans came north. They are even
more unlikely when there are only a handful of war resisters in
We must be alert to any moves, public or secret, to treat the war
resisters unfairly. But we must never let our concerns about such
matters take time and energy away from our real work: building the War
Resisters Support Campaign.
FUTURE CAMPAIGNING FOR THE WAR RESISTERS
The War Resisters Support Campaign is not discouraged by the election
results. We still have the support of many Canadian organizations and
thousands of individual Canadians. Stephen Harper is making every
effort to appear moderate in order to win over people worried about his
earlier Bush-like ideas. And Canadians are still overwhelmingly opposed
to Bush and his disastrous war, and committed to helping build a
We will continue to campaign throughout Canada to build support for our
goal: a provision that will make it possible for US Iraq War resisters
to find sanctuary in Canada just as thousands of Vietnam War resisters
We will step up our efforts to lobby MPs of all parties to work for
We will continue to use the media and other means to make Canadians and
others aware of the courage and decency of the war resisters.
We will continue to forge links with peace loving Americans.
Most of all, we will continue to welcome and offer support to any
member of the US Army, the US Navy, the US Marine Corps or the US Air
Force who comes to Canada seeking sanctuary because he or she, like
Canada, opposes and refuses to take part in Bush's invasion of Iraq.
We call upon all Canadians to join the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Harper or no Harper, Canadians STILL Support the War Resisters!
*For an excellent overview of the Canadian election written by a
please see John Nichols's article "Don't Cry For Canada"
This report was written by Lee Zaslofsky,
Coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign,
www.resisters.ca 416 598 1222