For Iraq War resisters, its Vietnam all over again

It has been 11 years for Jeremy Hinzman and the better part of a decade for many other U.S. Iraq.

It has been 11 years for Jeremy Hinzman and the better part of a decade for many other U.S. Iraq War resisters seeking status here.

Canada started a fresh chapter by electing Justin Trudeaus Liberals on the promise of real change. One of the best ways for John McCallum, the new immigration minister, to chart a course that distinguishes this government from its predecessor would be to end the vendetta Stephen Harpers government pursued against Iraq War resisters, by issuing a new ministerial directive to expedite their path to permanent residency.

Beginning with Hinzman in 2004, U.S. war resisters chose to make Canada their home because of our reputation for fairness and compassion and our history under another prime minister named Trudeau of welcoming 50,000 resisters during the Vietnam War.

Hinzman, a soldier in the 82nd Air-borne Division, was the first American Iraq War resister to seek refugee status in Canada. He served in a non-combat role in Afghanistan in 2002-03 after applying for conscientious objector status.

Denied that status and told he was to be deployed to Iraq, Hinzman, his wife and young son sought asylum here in 2004. He was granted a last-minute stay of deportation in 2008. But his request to stay in Canada on compassionate grounds is still wending its way through the courts.

Rodney Watson, who spent a year deployed in Mosul, Iraq, could not stay silent about unnecessary violence he witnessed by the occupying troops. He has been in sanctuary for over half a decade, inside a Vancouver church to avoid deportation after the Harper government ordered him returned to the U.S.

Kimberly Rivera refused further deployment after witnessing mistreatment of Iraqi civilians. She carried an empty rifle while in Iraq because she could not stand the thought of killing a human being.

Despite the support of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and a petition signed by more than 20,000 supporters, Rivera was forced from Canada in 2012 into the custody of the U.S. Army and a military prison, where she gave birth. Conservative MPs cheered in the House of Commons at news of her prosecution.

The Harper government targeted about 50 American veterans living in Canada, directing that their cases for entry be treated as potentially criminally inadmissible.

The Conservatives prevented U.S. war resisters from getting fair and impartial hearings. The new government can stop this vindictive and discriminatory treatment by directing government lawyers to cease their opposition to the resisters in Federal Court and to issue travel documents so Rivera, Long and others who were callously driven from Canada can return.

It took several years before the Liberal government in 1969 completely opened the doors to all U.S. Vietnam War resisters, regardless of whether they were leaving the military or fleeing the country before being drafted into military service.

Then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously remarked in a speech to Mennonite and United Church leaders that those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war… have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada.

Trudeau should act now to reverse the harmful effects of a lost decade under Stephen Harper.

John Hagan is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University and the author of Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters In Canada. | @nowtoronto

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