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The past and present of U.S. war resisters in Canada

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Sarah Hipworth and Luke Stewart about Let Them Stay, a new book that brings together the voices of U.S. soldiers who have sought sanctuary in Canada in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- with a look at the history of the struggle to let them remain here.

In the mid 1960s, young men from the United States began coming to Canada to avoid being drafted into their military, embroiled as it was at the time in enacting massive violence against the people of Vietnam. The Canadian government of the time wasn't thrilled about this but it determined that it had no legal tools to exclude them from the country. The government did, however, issue a secret memorandum to exclude from landed immigrant status not draft dodgers but those derisively referred to as "deserters" -- that is, those already in the U.S. military who decided to flee to Canada rather than participate in the destruction of Vietnam. Organizations that had formed to support GIs who fled to Canada, the broader anti-war movement, and many other sectors of society mobilized and succeeded in pushing the government of Trudeau Senior to allow all Vietnam-era war resisters to remain in Canada.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s: Another two U.S.-led invasions and occupations and another upsurge of popular opposition to them around the world and in the United States -- even among former and present U.S. soldiers. The U.S. recolonization of Iraq faced particularly vigorous global social movement opposition, even before it began. And while movements were unsuccessful in stopping the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was once again a desire to support soldiers who decided they could not in good conscience serve in an illegal war or in a war that integrally included illegal acts. Once again, GIs made their way to Canada.

However, today is a very different era than the 1960s. Not only are the anti-war movement and many other social movements in a much weaker place than they were in that earlier time, but in the interim Canada -- like most industrialized countries -- has developed a much more powerful and repressive set of tools for restricting who enters the country and what status they can have once they are here. U.S. soldiers seeking to avoid participating in the brutal violence inflicted on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq have no easy recourse to permanent status in Canada. Many have applied to become refugees, arguing that returning them to the U.S. would result in them facing persecution and jail time for their acts of conscience, yet they have consistently faced opposition from the Canadian state to their applications. The fight for full status for all resisters was won in the Vietnam era in only three years, yet here we are, twelve years after the first Iraq war resisters arrived in Canada, and the Canadian state has deported some and is still working hard to deport the rest. There is hope that the government of Trudeau Junior might be convinced to change course, but so far no such change has occurred, and the struggle continues.

Sarah Hipworth And Luke Stewart are not war resisters themselves, but they wanted to document the stories and struggles of contemporary war resisters in Canada. They have assembled a volume called Let Them Stay: U.S. War Resisters in Canada 2004-2016, which brings together oral history interviews and statements by many of the resisters themselves, and important documents of the organizing that has happened in Canada to support them and to push the Canadian state to, as the title says, let them stay. Hipworth and Stewart speak with me about both past and present struggles to shelter U.S. war resisters in Canada, and about the work that went into documenting those struggles in their new book.

To learn more about Let Them Stay: U.S. War Resisters in Canada 2004-2016, click here

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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