Opinion Editorial

Most Canadians say: Let war resisters stay

War resisters -former U. S. soldiers who have come to this country because they refuse to fight in the Iraq war -should be allowed to stay in Canada. This is an opinion shared by a majority of Canadians and a majority of our Members of Parliament. So why won't the Harper government listen?

Canadians have been asked more than once about this question: in a poll conducted by Strategic Communications last August, 64 per cent of Ontarians said they favoured allowing war resisters to settle in Canada with their families. Even 54 per cent of those who self-identified as voting Conservative federally were in favour of such a motion.

Just last month these results were confirmed in a nation-wide poll conducted by Angus Reid: 64 per cent of Canadians said they would agree with giving these ex-soldiers from the U. S. the opportunity to remain in Canada as permanent residents.

Results varied somewhat across the country, but even where support is lowest (Alberta 52 per cent) there is a majority in favour of letting them stay.

It is high time Harper's minority Conservatives listened to Canadians.

A motion passed in the House of Commons on June 3 called for the government to make provisions to allow war resisters to become permanent residents in Canada and to halt all current removal or deportation proceedings against those already here. The Conservative government is refusing to respect the will of Parliament and still attempting to deport Iraq War Resisters.

The most immediate case before us is that of Corey Glass, who was to leave Canada today -- Thursday, July 10.

Last week there was a certain amount of confusion created by a news report claiming Glass had been 'discharged' from the military and was free to return to the U. S.

The fact is, however, Glass has not received an official discharge paper from the Army -known as a DD 214. He has not gone through the normal discharge process, so under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he could still be charged with desertion and punished by imprisonment and a Bad Conduct discharge, equivalent to a felony conviction.

As a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, Glass could still be recalled to active duty, possibly in Iraq, at any time until July 2010 and be forced to serve past that date, through the "stop loss" program.

Often described as the "back-door draft", stop-loss legislation allows the U. S. military to unilaterally extend soldiers' contracts for an indefinite period of time (in one case, for over 25 years), even after they have already completed their required tour of duty. Many other resisters in Canada also face a fate similar to Glass's if the Harper government continues to ignore Parliament and the majority of Canadians.

A recent federal court decision ordered the Immigration and Refugee Board to hold a new hearing for another resister, Joshua Key. This ruling makes it clear that the IRB erred in excluding evidence about Geneva Convention and other human rights violations by the U. S. military, which form the basis of many resisters' cases.

Federal Court Justice Robert Barnes ruled that "Officially condoned military misconduct falling well short of a war crime may support a claim to refugee protection." In light of this new ruling, it is now more critical than ever that Minister of Immigration Diane Finley and Prime Minister Harper immediately cease any removal proceedings already underway against U. S. Iraq war resisters.

In 2005, when he was leader of the Opposition, Harper was sure that the government must to listen to a parliamentary majority when it votes on a resolution in Commons, saying "the Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House... Will the Prime Minister respect this vote?"

Now that he is Prime Minister, Harper would do well to take heed of his own words.

-- DAVID HEAP David Heap teaches linguistics

at the University of Western Ontario and is part of the London War Resisters Support Group.