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Canadian court reopens door for U.S. war resisters

Published Jul 10, 2008 8:56 PM

A Canadian court on July 4 ordered Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board to review U.S. war resister Joshua Key’s claim for asylum. In a ruling that could affect many other U.S. war resisters, the court said, “Military action which systematically degrades, abuses or humiliates either combatants or non-combatants is capable of supporting a refugee claim.”

Joshua and Brandi Key and their four
children at home in Canada.
Photo: Courage to Resist

The court concluded that the Immigration and Refugee Board imposed “a too restrictive legal standard” on Key. In a clear statement affecting other U.S. war resisters, the court also found that “similarly situated individuals” should have their refugee claims reviewed.

Key’s lawyer, Jeffry House, said the ruling is “a huge victory for numerous soldiers who are here [in Canada] and maybe others who are thinking of coming here.” House himself is a Vietnam-era war resister. A spokeswoman for Canadian Immigration Minister Diane Finley said her ministry was reviewing the court decision, which adds another layer of pressure to let the war resisters stay.

The decision could not come at a better time. A large-scale campaign is under way in both Canada and the U.S. to press the Canadian government to stop the deportation of Corey Glass, slated for July 10. Glass would be the first U.S. war resister to be deported from Canada. The Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign has led a massive effort in Canada to force the Canadian government to stop his deportation and respect a majority vote in Parliament on June 3 that called on the government to stop deportation of U.S. war resisters and let them stay permanently.

A national poll in June showed that 64 percent of Canadians favor letting the war resisters stay. Meanwhile, in the U.S., vigils and demonstrations are taking place at Canadian consulates in 14 cities, organized by Courage to Resist, Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Project Safe Haven.

Elliott Adams, the national president of Veterans For Peace, will visit the Canadian Embassy in Washington July 10 to deliver an “Open Letter to the Canadian People and their Government.” The letter says, in part:

“U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who have refused to participate in this war have shown great moral courage. Unlike many governments around the world, these war resisters are respecting international law and following their own consciences. They witnessed war crimes with their own eyes. They were sickened by the racist attitudes that the U.S. military fostered toward the Iraqi people. Some are struggling with the psychological wounds of war, commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

“So it is from the bottom of our hearts that we thank the many Canadians who have sheltered our war resisters,” the letter says, and concludes with a strong demand that the Canadian government respect the Parliamentary vote and the will of the Canadian people, and let the war resisters stay.

Joshua Key went to Canada with his wife Brandi and their four small children following 16 months living underground in the United States after he decided not to return to Iraq. He served as a combat engineer in Iraq for eight months in 2003. His book, “The Deserter’s Tale,” has been an international best seller. He said he and his family have felt support from “about 95 percent of the Canadian people.”

Key’s lawyer, Jeffry House, said there are about 200 U.S. war resisters in Canada now. While that is “no comparison to the later period of the Vietnam War,” he said, it does compare with the early Vietnam War period. “Early on during Vietnam there were only a small number, but later the doors opened more widely,” he said. “By November 1969 [Canadian Prime Minister] Trudeau declared Canada ‘should be a refuge from militarism,’ and the doors opened and people flooded in.” More than 50,000 U.S. war resisters found refuge–or a new home–in Canada during the Vietnam War.

According to Gerry Condon of Project Safe Haven, making it possible for war resisters to stay in Canada is an integral part of building the GI resistance.