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Derrick O'Keefe's blog

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former rabble.ca Editor Derrick O'Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya's political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca's editor from 2007 to 2009. Topics covered on this blog will include the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy, Canadian politics, media analysis, climate justice and ecology. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe

10 years later: Harper was wrong on Iraq, so why are war resisters still being punished?

| March 19, 2013
10 years later: Harper was wrong on Iraq, so why are war resisters still being punished?

Today marks ten years since the beginning of the disastrous and immoral war against Iraq. Estimates of the total number of war related deaths vary widely, but the toll has been massive. Hundreds of thousands killed; countless numbers terrorized and tortured; millions displaced.

After a decade, Iraq is broken, shattered and, despite assurances to the contrary, still occupied -- by mercenaries along with the remaining U.S. presence that helps prop up a corrupt regime.

On this sombre anniversary, it's worth remembering that, at the time, Stephen Harper strongly objected to the fact that Canada wasn't a full participant in the U.S.-led war. It's important to note that although then Prime Minister Jean Chretien kept Canada out of George W. Bush and Tony Blair's formal war coalition due to massive anti-war mobilizations and strong objections from the Quebec section of the Liberal Party, the wily PM did find many subtle ways to assist the war effort. (See Richard Sanders' meticulous documentation of this covert Canadian support for the Iraq War here.)

Harper's ardent support for the Iraq War was evident in debates with Chretien in the House of Commons. Then the leader of the Official Opposition, Harper even took the extraordinary step – together with Stockwell Day -- of writing a note published by the Wall Street Journal just days after the war began. In a letter of apology (to the U.S. Empire), Harper and Day lamented Canada's failure to join the 'Coalition of the Willing' assembled to carry out the illegal invasion.

Today, the world is at war. A coalition of countries under the leadership of the U.K. and the U.S. is leading a military intervention to disarm Saddam Hussein. Yet Prime Minister Jean Chretien has left Canada outside this multilateral coalition of nations.

This is a serious mistake. For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need. The Canadian Alliance -- the official opposition in parliament -- supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values. Disarming Iraq is necessary for the long-term security of the world, and for the collective interests of our key historic allies and therefore manifestly in the national interest of Canada. Make no mistake, as our allies work to end the reign of Saddam and the brutality and aggression that are the foundations of his regime, Canada's largest opposition party, the Canadian Alliance will not be neutral. In our hearts and minds, we will be with our allies and friends. And Canadians will be overwhelmingly with us.

But we will not be with the Canadian government.

Modern Canada was forged in large part by war -- not because it was easy but because it was right. In the great wars of the last century -- against authoritarianism, fascism, and communism -- Canada did not merely stand with the Americans, more often than not we led the way. We did so for freedom, for democracy, for civilization itself. These values continue to be embodied in our allies and their leaders, and scorned by the forces of evil, including Saddam Hussein and the perpetrators of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That is why we will stand -- and I believe most Canadians will stand with us -- for these higher values which shaped our past, and which we will need in an uncertain future.

This full throated support for the Iraq War quickly became embarrassing for Harper, as the disastrous results of the war became evident. Contrary to Harper and Day's assertion, poll after poll showed Canadians were overwhelmingly against the war. 

By the June 2004 campaign, Harper was twisting like a pretzel to convince voters he hadn't really supported the war.

Years later, Harper finally admitted that the Iraq War was "absolutely an error." He even conceded his mistake in supporting the war during a 2011 interview with Peter Mansbridge. 

If Harper and (almost) everyone in Canadian political life now acknowledges that the Iraq War was wrong, then why are U.S. War resisters seeking refuge in Canada still paying the price for their opposition? 

War resisters in Canada are still facing deportation. A few years ago, the Conservatives killed a private member's bill "intended to grant military deserters permanent resident status in Canada under certain conditions."

In this betrayal of war resisters, Harper tag teamed with Michael Ignatieff, then Liberal leader and a former key intellectual apologist for the Iraq War. Even though it was Liberal MP Gerrard Kennedy's bill, Ignatieff led a number of other Liberals in walking out of Parliament to ensure it was defeated.

Because of Harper and Ignatieff, war resister Rodney Watson Jr. in Vancouver remains living in sanctuary at First United Church in the Downtown Eastside. He's been forced to live there for over three years now, in order to avoid deportation to the United States.

Why are courageous resisters like Rodney still paying for Harper's mistake on Iraq? 

Tonight, a forum will be held inside the Church so that Rodney can participate and tell his story of resistance. He'll be joined by Iraqi-Canadian Riadh Muslih, who will speak about the toll of the past 10 years on his home country.

To those who have paid the heavy price of the Iraq War, we owe it to remember and to continue to resist.  

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