Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs (137 in total) stood in favour âe" literally stood up to vote as procedure dictates, though for a second the line of MPs could be confused for a makeshift honour guard of sorts âe" of the "war resister" motion. From the ranks of the Conservative Party, 110 MPs stood against. They did not look happy. Perhaps because they knew Bush would not be happy (first it was former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's wicked Iraq criticisms and now this northern dissent. Someone is going to bed angry!)
The motion, first presented to Parliament on May 29 by NDP MP Olivia Chow, was based on an earlier Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration motion (Standing Order 108(2)) in December 2007.
It called for the creation of a special government program to "allow conscientious objectors and their families ... who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations âe¦ to apply for permanent resident status."
The motion also called for the government to immediately "cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals."
Let them stay!
There are currently an estimated two hundred Iraq war resisters, either underground or declared, living in Canada.
This group of men and women, a true motley crew of ages, ranks, family status and political affiliation, have been living and working in Canada since 2004, when the first war resister, Jeremy Hinzman, crossed the border into Canada after his U.S. conscientious objector application was denied and he ran out of other legal options.
Since then, the community of resisters and community members has been doggedly fighting for their right to remain in Canada.
As Hip Hop MC Mohammad Ali raps on a track on his latest CD, their request is simple: "three little words / let them stay!"
Iraq war resister Robin Long, who currently resides in B.C., was excited by the vote. He felt that Canadians were making a strong stand against a war that the UN declared was illegal.
"I feel a small but growing and powerful group of people have woken up and are taking a stand ... and these people are going to wake everyone else up, leading the people back to power and away from the corporate agenda Bush," he said.
In defence of their choice âe" for which they have faced death threats for desertion to taunts calling them disloyal cowards âe" resisters note that not only did the UN declare the Iraq war illegal, but their decision is also supported by the Nuremberg Principles which allow soldiers the moral right and responsibility to refuse orders. In this case, war resisters state they are making the moral choice to seek refuge in Canada since their actions are in concurrence with international law (that the invasion of Iraq was illegal and they refuse to fight in an illegal war).
Charles Bradford McCall, another Iraq war resister living in B.C., said that today's passed motion was "a major step in support of ending this current age of oppression that stems from the U.S. government."
"I hope now that many more U.S. soldiers will decide to make a definite stand against the current regime and the U.S. military. This is the beginning of a new resistance. I will remember this day forever," McCall said.
Saving Sergeant Corey Glass
While yesterday's motion is non-binding, Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRSC) noted that the motion was morally binding.
NDP MP Olivia Chow expressed hope that the Harper government would recognize the will of the House majority âe" and thus, the will of the Canadian people âe" and follow through on the motion.
But the strong opposition shown by the Citizenship and Immigration minister, Diane Finley, and the Conservative government puts this in doubt.
Jeff House, lawyer to many of the resisters, said the motion sends a clear signal to the Conservative minority government. "It is now clear that the Canadian people welcome U.S. Iraq war resisters, and that, in a democratic country, that should be the end of the story. A government which represents Canadians will agree to create a mechanism to allow Iraq resisters to stay," he said.
The motion came to pass as an attempt to prevent Iraq war resister Corey Glass's deportation (and the impending deportation of others), which is set to occur on June 12. If the Conservative minority government chooses to ignore the motion, then Glass is still under the gun (as part of the motion demands the government immediately rescind Glass's deportation order).
Canada's resister history
The motion, in its entirety, would return Canada to its role of accepting conscientious objectors âe" and taking a stand against U.S. military aggression - as it did during the Vietnam war.
According to the WRSC, between 50,000 and 80,000 Americans sought refuge in Canada during the U.S. war in Vietnam. Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister of Canada, granted them sanctuary. The Canadian public is calling on the current Harper government to do the same. There is already parliamentary precedent in place.
In 2003, Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien refused to allow Canadian troops to fight in the United States' coalition of the willing.
Alexandre Trudeau, son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and director of the documentary film Embedded In Baghdad, supports his father's legacy and Canada's opposition to the Iraq war. "We must not forget that the invasion of Iraq was a war justified only by lies, greed and stupidity for which permission was not sought nor granted to the Bush administration by the United Nations."
"Those Americans who served in Iraq and have come to Canada to avoid being pressed into further participation in the indignities of the American occupation there are brave men and women of principle who should be given a chance to become landed in Canada," Trudeau concluded.
Yesterday's vote in Parliament marked an important step on the long road to realizing that key demand of the war resisters' supporters, summed up in those three little words: let them stay!