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Conservatives stick to their guns, war resisters lose

Last week, MPs Mario Silva (Liberal) and Olivia Chow (NDP) pledged that a Liberal-NDP coalition government would stop the deportation…

By Brandi Cowen , in Bridging the 49th Parallel , on January 29, 2009 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last week, MPs Mario Silva (Liberal) and Olivia Chow (NDP) pledged that a Liberal-NDP coalition government would stop the deportation of American war resisters. But now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government isn’t going anywhere, war resisters hiding out north of the border are facing an uncertain future.

Five Iraq War resisters, all facing jail time for desertion, were scheduled for deportation within two weeks of the Liberal-NDP announcement. Since then, Kimberly Rivera – a mother of three who was slated for deportation on Tuesday – has been granted a temporary stay of removal. So far, the other four haven’t been so lucky.

The Conservatives have made it clear that their government will not harbour war resisters. Earlier this month, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney went so far as to call war resisters living in Canada “bogus refugee claimants.”

The number of war resisters actually living in Canada is unknown. Given the Conservative government’s outspoken position on harbouring resisters, it’s not surprising that many never file refugee claims, bogus or otherwise.

When a refugee claim is denied, the individual must leave Canada within 30 days. If they don’t, a deportation order is issued, which any peace officer may carry out at any time. 

For many resisters, deportation would result in arrest and a prison sentence.

However, President Barack Obama has the power to change that. Just as Gerald Ford did in 1974 for Vietnam War resisters, Obama could grant amnesty to Iraq War resisters living abroad.

Harper too could follow historical precedent. Pierre Trudeau offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers hiding out in Canada. Removing the risk from coming forward and filing the appropriate paperwork eventually allowed these men to become landed immigrants.

All things considered, both Obama and Harper might do well to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.

The Iraq War is a mess the Bush administration had no justification for creating. What’s more, key members of the administration may wind up facing war crime charges for their invasion of Iraq and, some international law experts have argued, even Afghanistan.

Given the questionable legality of the Iraq War, both Harper and Obama may find it increasingly difficult to justify treating war resisters as criminals. Instead of prosecuting, deporting and even jailing resisters, why not put both countries’ limited resources to better use, and let resisters – and their families – get on with their lives on whichever side of the border they choose?