rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

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

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

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.  

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.