Petition supports war resisters

By 
  • July 24, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - More than 60 religious organizations, many of them ecumenical and many of them Catholic, have backed a petition asking Ottawa to halt deportations of U.S. soldiers who have come to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq.

The online petition sponsored by the Quakers asks Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley to create a policy to allow conscientious objectors to stay in Canada. The petition cites the June 3 advisory vote of Parliament which would have allowed American soldiers to stay in Canada as permanent residents.

But petitions and protests weren’t enough to keep Robin Long in Canada. The Federal Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal of the soldier’s deportation order on July 15 and he will be sent back to Fort Knox, Kentucky. He left the base in 2005 rather than obey an order to go with his unit to Iraq. Long is the first U.S. soldier in Canada to avoid duty in Iraq to actually be deported.

Among the signatories to the petition are Franciscan friars, Catholic deacons, a retired Anglican bishop, Catholic school chaplains, a former general secretary of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams and university professors at Catholic colleges.

The War Resisters Support Group, which has helped more than 60 American soldiers make refugee applications in Canada, is counting on religious groups.

“It shows a rallying of faith communities in Canada behind the war resisters and behind peace,” said War Resisters Support Group director Lee Szaslofsky.

Szaslofsky points out there’s nothing left wing, radical or extreme about wanting to open Canada up to soldiers who object to the war in Iraq. An August 2007 Strategic Communications Inc. poll found 64.6 per cent of Ontarians wanted ex-soldiers to be allowed to settle in Canada. On July 4 the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Immigration and Refugee Board members must take into account testimony that U.S. soldiers in Iraq who follow orders will necessarily violate the Geneva Conventions. The court also said the board must consider the penalty AWOL soldiers would face on returning to the United States.

In Georgina, Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School chaplaincy team leader Dave Szallosy signed the petition because he thinks the Pope was right to oppose the U.S. invasion in 2003. The Catholic position is always on the side of conscience, Szallosy said.

“When the large moral questions around war emerge there is a challenge and a call to a moral response, especially to support individuals who in conscience cannot participate,” he said.

Welcoming war resisters, from the United Empire Loyalists to Vietnam-era draft dodgers, is also a Canadian tradition, he said.

Catholics for Peace Toronto helped form a human chain between the Federal Court and the U.S. Consulate in Toronto July 10. About 300 protesters urged passing motorists on University Avenue to honk in support of American soldiers making refugee claims in Canada.

The petition can be signed at www.newcatholictimes.com.

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