NDP calls on Ottawa to let Iraq War resisters stay

Advocates for five Iraq War conscientious objectors fighting for asylum in Canada, including Rodney Watson, say the federal immigration minister has just 60 days left to quash judicial reviews of their cases.

A letter from NDP critics addressed to both the Attorney General and the Ministry for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship is calling on the Liberal government to "end the Harper government's vendetta against U.S. war resisters in Canadian courts by providing them with a pathway to citizenship."

The letter also endorses the War Resisters Support Campaign, an organization founded in 2004 to help U.S. soldiers opposed to the Iraq War settle in Canada.

Watson has taken sanctuary at First United Church in Vancouver for the past six years and nine months, the letter said, because of concerns he could be deported to the U.S. He enlisted as a cook for financial reasons and was deployed to Mosul in 2005 with the promise that he wouldn't be in combat.

Instead, he wrote in an opinion piece in the Star, he was ordered to search local civilians and vehicles for weapons and explosives. He wrote that he witnessed racism and physical abuse toward civilians, describing one case where fellow soldiers beat up an unarmed Iraqi civilian, using racial epithets, after he ventured into their camp, looking for work.

"This was not what I had signed up for," Watson wrote. When he was redeployed in a "stop-loss" action after returning from his one-year tour of duty, he decided not to return to an "unnecessary war."

Last May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that securing permanent residency for resisters was an issue "that we are actively looking into as a government," but didn't offer a concrete timeline. During his election campaign last year, Trudeau said he backed the principle of allowing conscientious objectors to the Iraq War, which Canada did not support, to stay in Canada.

Immigration officials were instructed by the previous Conservative government, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, to deport them. About 15 conscientious objectors to the Iraq War are known to be in Canada today, but others may be in hiding.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan and NDP MP Murray Rankin, who signed the letter, noted that Immigration Minister John McCallum's deadline to intervene in their five cases, given by the Federal Court, is fast approaching.

"However, it appears that no action has been taken and the September 16, 2016 deadline is looming," the letter said.

Kimberly Rivera, another conscientious objector who fled to Toronto with her four children in 2007, was eventually deported in 2013, despite strong public criticism. Sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment by a U.S. court, she later gave birth in a U.S. military stockade.

During the Vietnam War (under former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau) Canada took in about 50,000 U.S. soldiers, including both draftees and deserters, who refused to serve in a war many considered immoral.

Source: The Star