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‘Dear Canada, let them stay’

Rallies in 14 cities support war resisters

Published Feb 3, 2008 8:47 PM

Anti-war activists delivered tens of thousands of letters and petitions on Jan. 25 to Canadian consulates in eight cities across the United States. The “Dear Canada: Let U.S. war resisters stay” letters ask that the Canadian government allow the resisters now seeking sanctuary in Canada to remain there.

San Francisco action in front of the
Canadian Consulate
Jef Paterson/Courage To Resist

In New York, Washington, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, supporters gathered outside Canadian consulates to show support for the war resisters. Meanwhile, on Jan. 26 in Canada, war resisters and their supporters in Ottawa, Toronto, Sudbury, London, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon, Nelson, Vancouver, and Victoria also rallied to demand that the Parliament take urgent action to stop possible deportations of four of the war resisters, several with families.

The rallies urged the Canadian House of Commons to adopt a recommendation of its Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that would make it possible for U.S. Iraq War resisters to obtain permanent resident status in Canada.

In San Francisco, the delegation to the Canadian Consulate was led by Pablo Paredes and Mike Wong. Paredes is a former U.S. sailor who refused orders to return to Iraq, and is now a GI Rights Hotline counselor. In December 2004 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he publicly refused to get on a ship returning to Iraq. “I don’t want to be part of a ship that’s taking 3,000 Marines over there, knowing a hundred or more of them won’t come back,” he told reporters at the time. Mike Wong is a Vietnam War-era veteran who chose exile in Canada for five years in the 1970s.

Courage to Resist in collaboration with the War Resisters Support Campaign (Canada) initiated the actions at Canadian consulates across the U.S. They had the support of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and many other groups.

This event was the first nationally coordinated action in the U.S. in support of war resisters in Canada. Since the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, many soldiers have been going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). GIs who have publicly refused to deploy—or re-deploy—to Iraq have been court-martialed and imprisoned. Thousands of service people are AWOL and are believed to be in hiding in the U.S. and abroad. Hundreds have fled to Canada.

In a poll last August, 65 percent of respondents in Ontario, Canada’s largest province, said U.S. soldiers should be allowed to settle in Canada. The poll results were broken down by party affiliation: 71 percent of Liberal voters, 74 percent of NDP (social democratic) voters, and 53 percent of Conservative voters said, “Let them settle in Canada.” Parliamentary representatives of the Liberals united with the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois last November to approve a resolution that soldiers who refuse to fight in a war not approved by the U.N. should be allowed to stay in Canada. The resolution is now due for debate and a possible vote in the full Parliament in February.

The Canadian rallies featured war resisters speaking on their own behalf, along with members of the War Resisters Support Campaign, which includes the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Church of Canada and many local groups. In Toronto, Olivia Chow, the member of Parliament who introduced the resolution demanding resisters be allowed to stay, was a featured speaker.

One of the war resister speakers was Joshua Key, whose recently published memoir, “The Deserter’s Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq,” has won international acclaim. The documentary film “Breaking Ranks,” featuring the stories of numerous U.S. war resisters in Canada, was shown at several of the rallies in Canada. It was also recently aired nationally on CBC, the national Canadian TV broadcasting network.

Gerry Condon, a Vietnam War-era resister who dedicates his time to supporting Iraq War resisters, said, “We have achieved a valuable goal—this is the first nationally coordinated action in the U.S. in support of our war resisters in Canada. Various elements of the peace movement participated in this together. This is also another important step in the reorientation of much of the antiwar movement to the importance of defending our war resisters.”