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On February 15, 2003, 15 million people around the globe marched in opposition to the impending war in Iraq. Despite not convincing the U.S. or UK governments to draw back from their invasion plans, the pressure generated that day did convince several governments, including Canada's, not to participate in what would turn out to be a military debacle that the United States and the United Kingdom are still reeling from more than a decade later.
While the anti-war movement would peter out over the next few years, the consequences of the war in Iraq would continue to influence Canadian politics as hundreds of American soldiers would venture north of the border in hopes of not participating in the conflict.
Quickly, anti-war activists began mobilizing support for these war resisters, launching a political and legal campaign aimed at allowing these soldiers to remain in Canada.
Let Them Stay: U.S. War Resisters in Canada, 2004-2016, a new book edited by Sarah Hipworth and Luke Stewart, tells the amazing and powerful story of these resisters and the campaign to defend their right to oppose an illegal war.
Divided into two parts, Let Them Stay begins by giving voice to the actual resisters. Their accounts detail their decision to no longer fight, their flight to Canada and the difficult challenges that being in Canada has been as the Canadian State keeps trying to deport them back to certain military court marshals and jail sentences.
The stories they tell reveal how the soldiers' worldviews are turned upside down, with many witnessing the brutality of invasion and deciding that these actions did not jibe with their moral compass. But the consequences of this realization are gut-wrenching, as the soldiers and their significant others make the difficult decision to leave behind their families and social networks, unlikely to see them again for a very long time.
Once in Canada, the resisters attempt to find normalcy, but quickly discover that the governments of the day (both the Liberals and Conservatives) do not welcome them as Canada did draft dodgers from the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
These accounts are the most emotionally powerful arguments for their case, showcasing the torment behind their decision to leave the military, detailing how the psychological injuries the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to plague them, and revealing the kind of harm that would be done to their families (with many having children born in Canada) if they are sent back to face certain jail time.
The second part of the book reproduces the most significant material of the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRSC) and outlines the legal strategies and issues that the campaign has employed in defending the resisters from deportation.
This ends up being an amazing archive tracing the campaign's efforts, showing us the petitions, letters and other material that WRSC used to mobilize support and influence public opinion. So successful were their efforts that polls began to show a solid majority of Canadians supporting amnesty for the resisters.
Additionally, the three pieces outlining the legal strategy shed light onto the quickly changing international consensus on what kind of war resister is eligible for refugee status and the kinds of arguments that have been persuasive in Canadian courts.
Let Them Stay ends up being both a detailed and powerful account of the war resisters and their campaign as well as an important political tool as the current Liberal government considers whether to allow the former soldiers to stay.
As the WRSC aims to mobilize more voices to pressure MPs to support amnesty, this book will be an invaluable resource to bolster the case to let the resisters stay!
Alex Kerner is a socialist lawyer and book lover. His book reviews can be found at http://myfriendthereader.blogspot.ca