Canadian MPs Vote to Save US 'Deserters'

A powerful, symbolic vote to keep US soldiers from being deported is a brave move.

Michael Werbowski

6 June 2008

In an astonishingly bold decision, the Canadian House of Commons voted this week in support of a parliamentary motion which potentially would allow US soldiers who fled across the border to Canada to remain in the country.

The so-called "recommendation" was adopted in a rare show of cross party unity by all the opposition parties in Parliament. The ruling minority Progressive Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper voted against the multi party legislative proposal, which would, if enacted into law allow hundreds of American soldiers who refused to serve in Iraq, to remain in Canada and eventually gain permanent residence status.

The parliamentary move, which was first proposed in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in December 2007, effectively gives those solders wishing to stay in Canada as "contentious objectors" the right to remain in Canada and thus avoid eventual prosecution or court martial in the US, were desertion is considered a capital crime punishable by death. The three-party unified vote urges the government to "immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members... to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; ... the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions... against such individuals."

The vote comes just in time for US army recruit Corey Glass, 25, a war resister who came to Canada in 2006 and was recently told to leave Canada by June 12 or face removal to the United States, welcomed the vote. Upon hearing the news of the motion passed by the lower house, Glass expressed his appreciation for the parliamentarians, "I'm thankful that the MPs voted to let me and the other war resisters stay in Canada. I'm also thankful to all the Canadians who urged their MPs to support us."

Lee Zaslofsky, who deserted the US army during another unpopular conflict -- the Vietnam War -- in a show of solidarity with his Iraqi war resistors colleagues said: "This is a great victory for the courageous men and women who have come to Canada because they refuse to take part in the illegal, immoral Iraq War, and for the many organisations and individuals who have supported this campaign over the past four years." Zaslofsky is the Coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign and a Vietnam War deserter who came to Canada in 1970.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is calling on the Conservative government to respect the democratic decision of the Canadian Parliament and immediately implement the motion and cease deportation proceedings against Corey Glass and others like him who have also refused to fight in Iraq.

Yet it remains unclear now, how the government will respond to this symbolic defiance of the US Pentagon . However, ignoring or rejecting the recommendations of the proposal would be very risky politically.

The Harper government is currently mired in scandals involving its former foreign minister and is also faced with a rising daily toll of death and wounded soldiers in Canada's own war being fought in Afghanistan against the Taliban. The Afghan fighting, is deeply unpopular among Canadians as is the ongoing US led Iraqi occupation.

If the Conservatives despite this vote proceeded with the deportations of "resisters" such a Private Corey it would likely publicly be seen as another example of the authoritarian style of government adopted by Stephen Harper and also perhaps be interpreted as a clear sign that the current prime minister continues to kowtow to Washington's wishes with total disregard for the will of parliament in the process.