MPs vote to give asylum to U.S. deserters

The Canadian Press

June 3, 2008 at 5:31 PM EDT

Ottawa — American military deserters celebrated a bittersweet victory Tuesday as the House of Commons passed a motion calling on the Harper government to let them stay in Canada.

The opposition parties banded together to outvote the Conservatives and approve the motion to grant permanent residence status to deserters and their families.

But the measure, which passed 137-110, isn't binding — and the government is certain to ignore it.

“I hope the government listens to the will of the Canadian people and the House of Commons,” said Olivia Chow, the New Democrat MP who moved the motion.

For a couple of dozen former American servicemen and supporters who watched the voting from NDP offices in the Parliament Building, the fruitless victory offered hope.

“We are very happy that we won,” said Phil McDowell, a former U.S. army sergeant.

“We're hopeful that the government will respect the democratic process.”

Mr. McDowell, from Warwick, R.I., served a year in Iraq and then sought a discharge. When the army told him his enlistment would have to be extended, he deserted and fled to Canada in October 2006.

He wants to stay, although his prospects look bleak, barring a change in government policy.

“We believe that the motion is morally binding and it's a representation of the will of the House of Commons so we don't think it would be good for the government to withhold a democratic decision.”

There are thought to be about 200 American military deserters who have come to Canada to avoid service in Iraq.

Their efforts to win refugee status have been rejected by immigration officials and the courts alike and several face imminent deportation to courts martial and, perhaps, jail back home.

The Immigration Department says it would be unfair to cut a special exemption for one class of would-be immigrants.

Joshua Key, a former combat engineer, is awaiting word from an immigration appeal board on his bid to stay in Canada.

“I still consider it a huge step forward,” he said after the Commons vote.

Mr. Key, like others, has been frustrated by Canadian courts' refusal to hear what they feel is the key to their case.

“We've had one hand tied behind our back because we can't argue the illegality of the Iraq war, which we all know is illegal,” he said.

“But, with that we just take it one step at a time. I just hope it continues going forward.

Two generations ago, as many as 50,000 American draft dodgers and war resisters came to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. They were eventually welcomed and given permanent residence status leading, in many cases, to citizenship.

Opponents of the latest wave of anti-war immigrants say there's a big difference this time around.

Vietnam's manpower demands were filled by conscription, but every member of the American military today is a volunteer.

During the Commons debate last week, Laurie Hawn, an Edmonton Tory MP and a retired Canadian Forces fight pilot, offered little sympathy for deserters:

“As for volunteer soldiers in the United States who have difficulty with the mission they are on, first of all, soldiers do not get to vote for which missions they go on.

“Why do they not fight it within their own country in their own legal system instead of being faux refugees in Canada?”

While Mr. McDowell and his fellows hope for a change of heart from the Canadian government, he, at least, is resigned.

“If the government decides that it wants to go against the will of Parliament and stand up with George Bush and support the Iraq war, I'm going to have to kind of respect that decision.”



Once upon a time, it was all the way with LBJ. I recall being one of hundreds of thousands at a protest where many of use were conscripts and nothing but cannon fodder for a terribly wrong way in Vietnam At that time, I had viewed Canada with rose coloured glasses, and held the greatest respect for Canada’s decision to make a stand between right and wrong and do the right thing by making American deserters welcome in Canada.


Canada’s rose coloured uniforms of the RCMP and the Canadian flag paint a rosy very false image over the reality of a third world justice and political system that insult to the principles of justice and equity.


We can start at the top. Stephen Harper is a political survivor, a yes man to Washington who lacks the balls to do what Canadians want.


Just when is he going to wake up that there is change in the air sought of the boarder and his failure to make a stand on American deserters will never be respected south of the boarder after the Republicans loose the next election.


Stephen Harper is tantamount to a confessing Republican only held in check but the values held by the majority of Canadians that make Canadians very different to the right wing “common sense” republican dogma that comes from south of the boarder.


American deserters are the true heroes who will remembered for the extremely honourable courage that they displayed to ask within themselves what was right and wrong and despite their governments actions, they chose to do something that they believed in.


Mr. Stephen Harpers failure to recognize their valour, their courage is extremely disappointing.


Lets hope Mr. Stephen Harper keeps micromanaging government and following his Republican masters, that should hasten his departure.


Like the USA, Canada is now in need of change and the fact that he chose to slam the door on some very brave Americans will never be forgotten or forgiven.