Victory for US refuseniks who took refuge in Canada
Information sent by War Resisters in Canada, 12 December 2007

This morning I am thinking of that Todd Rundgren song:


Shining still,
To give us the will
Bright as the day,
To show us the way
We need just one victory
And we're on our way
Prayin' for it all day
And fightin' for it all night
Give us just one victory,
It will be all right
We may feel about to fall
But we go down fighting
You will hear the call
If you only listen
Underneath it all
We are here together
Shining still

We had a victory yesterday! Just one victory, and not the final victory, and a long struggle remains. But the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration passed our motion. Things went in our favour, we carried the day, and we deserve to be happy.

The Committee passed a motion saying that non-Canadians in Canada who refuse to participate in wars not sanctioned by the UN, and who do not have a criminal record, should be allowed to remain legally in Canada, and to apply for Permanent Resident status while living here, and all deportation or removal actions against them should cease while their applications are being processed.

It's exactly what we needed, yet alone, it means very little.

Here's how it went down.

* * * *

The folks in my car, who went up just for the day, missed the morning press conference; folks who attended that went up the night before. We heard the press conference was very sparsely covered because of the Karlheinz Schreiber scandal. After that, people attended Question Period, which I wish I could have done, but I'll certainly do some other time. Instead, we met up with a few other Campaigners, and had something to eat and hung out in the West Block cafeteria. Olivia Chow opened her office as our home base for the day, letting everyone leave their coats and bags in there, and buying lunch for the Campaign.

The Committee hearing itself was in the late afternoon, under a strict time schedule because of a House of Commons vote immediately afterwards. We packed the room with supporters. Among them was Jen, activist nurse, who read about the hearings on wmtc and volunteered to house people the night before.

On the Committee itself, there were supposed to be five Conservatives and seven combined opposition, but one Tory was the chair, so he didn't vote. That was nice for us, but it turns out it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

First two CIC bureaucrats testified and defended their policies. They were dolts and couldn't answer any of the Committee Members' questions.

They didn't even present an accurate institutional history. For example, they claimed that during the Vietnam era, the people Canada let in were escaping conscription - "draft dodgers". In reality, they were not only draft dodgers. There were also volunteers who deserted (one of those now co-leads the Campaign!), people who tried to get Conscientious Objector status in the US but were refused, and people who left in protest of the war, who were never in danger of being forced to serve.

A Tory made a speech decrying Canada creating "special loopholes" for certain people who deserted "voluntary duty" in their "country's time of need". A Liberal asked him if he needed a teleprompter.

Oral testimony on our behalf was: a Mennonite, whose people have benefited from conscientious objector status since coming to Canada; a war resister, former Sergeant Phillip McDowell; Jeffry House, the lawyer who represents most of the resisters pro bono (and who was a Vietnam deserter); and a representative from the Quakers. There were also written statements of support from other people and groups.

Everyone was good, but Phil was awesome. He's an excellent speaker, and he utterly demolished the Tory's non-arguments. The Conservatives' two central points were "service is voluntary" and "if they go back, they get a slap on the wrist, so just face the music".

Phil himself was stop-lossed. He joined the military after September 11, 2001, because he felt compelled to help his country. Instead of going to Afghanistan, he was deployed to Iraq. There, he saw war crimes, to which he can testify first-hand, and he saw that his continued participation in the army was part of those crimes. He saw men heavily punished for attempting to refuse participation, so he vowed to serve out his contract, then end his time with the army. He did so, and was discharged.

Months later, he was ordered back to Iraq. He tried every legal means to remain a civilian. There was no recourse. Absolutely none. He was ordered to deploy.


Phil then rang out a list of US soldiers who refused deployment to Iraq and did prison time. Real prison, and real time. Each of them received a "bad conduct discharge," a felony which is on your record for the rest of your life.

Slap on the wrist?

Another Conservative supposed argument was the "tens of thousands" of people waiting in refugee camps, fleeing torture and starvation, who are supposedly waiting to come to Canada. How can we justly take you folks, whose lives are so good, and turn those others away?

Jeffry House pointed out that this is a false construct. There is no finite number of slots, through which accepting a US war resister means turning away a Kurdish refugee. A Liberal pointed out that if the Conservatives are so concerned about those refugees, they could make it a priority to help them. Why have those poor folks been waiting in camps for so long anyway? And why haven't we heard about them until today?

Going into the hearing, we knew the NDP and the Bloc were on our side. We needed the two Liberals to vote in our favour in order to carry the motion. There was not a lot of optimism about it; I later learned that Campaign leadership did not expect it to pass.

But during the hearing, the Liberal Members asked very good questions, and seemed sympathetic. One of them mentioned a constituent who needed similar status to escape punishment for refusing to fight in a different war of aggression, by a different country. The motion was amended to change "the US war in Iraq" to "any war not sanctioned by the UN or other international governing body".

Notes were passed, Members briefly left the room together, people whispered in each other's ears. We were watching consensus being reached.

Meanwhile, it was getting late; a vote had to go off before 5:15. But first another Tory had to make another speech: they were running down the clock. This MP actually started talking e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s - l - o - w - l - y, telling stories about his Mennonite grandfather and uncle, how they served administrative duties during World War II, and how "we Mennonites" have the courage of "our" convictions, so if you have to go to jail, just shut up and go.

I believe Olivia Chow had to interrupt him to ask for the question to be called.

The Tories would not give unanimous consent for the question to be called, and insisted on an individual voice vote so they could oppose even that. Finally, as the clock ticked down to 5:13, the motion was called. After four Tory "nays," we heard seven ringing affirmations: "YES," "OUI," OH YEAH" "certainment".

We exploded with joy.

* * * *

So what does this mean? Both nothing, and a lot. The Committee motion itself has no teeth. The Committee will recommend to the Government that the war resisters be allowed to stay in Canada and apply for Permanent Residence. The Government will say no.

But we are trying to get a resolution passed in the House by a united Opposition. We already have the support of the NDP and the Bloc, so our primary objective is to lobby the Liberals. Now we can show them that their own Members who sit on the Immigration Committee, and who have studied the issue, support this. It can only help. The best way to think of it is as a stepping stone, or a springboard. Just one victory.

* * * *

I left my house at 7:00 a.m. and got back at 2:00 a.m., a bit of a long day for an old girl like me. I drove up with a resister and a campaigner (who was a Vietnam War resister), both people I'm friends with. On the way back, another resister came with us and he drove. Ten hours in a car together is a good way to get to know each other and for friendships to deepen, so that was really nice.

We also went out for a small celebration at a pub, something most Campaign members do after every meeting, but I drive back to Mississauga. So this was a nice opportunity for me to hang out a little. Jen (from Keep Insite Open) and two folks from Courage To Resist were there. The Courage to Resist people came from San Francisco to submit a supportive brief and attend the hearings. They're the reason I first heard about these war resisters, so I was very pleased to shake hands and exchange cards.

A good day. A win. And now, onward.


  • Exact wording of the motion:
    The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

  • The minutes of the committee session are available here.

  • When everything is translated, you can read the witnesses's submitted statements and all the supporting documents by clicking on the "evidence" box for the December 6 meeting on this page.
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