Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Thursday, December 13, 2007, and I should like to move concurrence at this time.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to split my time with the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who actually moved a motion at the Immigration and Citizenship committee about a year and a half ago.
We know that Iraq war resisters, who have refused to fight George W. Bush's illegal war, have been stuck in limbo in Canada for years. Canadians are proud of our history of opening our doors to Vietnam war resisters. We are equally united in saying no to George Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq. Today can be another landmark for Canadians as the day when the Parliament of Canada finally allowed war resisters to stay.
War resisters tell us that they joined the armed forces to escape poverty and make ends meet, and to protect their country, but not to break international law.
Phillip McDowell, one of the many war resisters in Canada, said, “I joined the military to defend my country. I didn't join or volunteer to take part in an illegal war or a war of aggression”. He adds that, to him, the war is unjust.
Kim Rivera recounts why she joined the army. She said, “I was working at Wal-Mart in Fort Worth, Texas, my home town. My husband and I have two small children, and I had to help make ends meet. But I ran into a glass ceiling at Wal-Mart and couldn't earn enough. I decided to join the army so I could get an adequate income, job training, and health care for my family”.
Like many others, Rivera was misinformed. As a mother of two, she was ensured by her recruiter that women were rarely deployed to combat zones. Less than a year later, she was in Iraq. She said, “the army told me I wouldn't be sent into combat, but once I got to Iraq I was under enemy fire every day”.
The conditions in Iraq severely traumatized Rivera. She recounts one incident when an Iraqi woman who became her friend was badly wounded.
As a mother and wife, Rivera faced multiple barriers. She recounts, “the Army had no regard for my role as a wife and mother. I tried to keep in touch with my family by phone, but it isn't the same as being together. Once I got frustrated and had an argument with my husband. A sergeant overheard me and told me I should get a divorce. He even put separation papers in front of me and told me to fill them out! But I love my husband and I want most of all to keep my family together”.
Like many others, Rivera and her family decided to leave. She explains, “on leave back in the U.S., my husband and I decided the war was wrong based on our values as Christians, and the Army was tearing my family apart. We decided that we would go to Canada, where we heard there were other families like ours”.
U.S. war resisters, like Rivera, tell us many disturbing tales about the Bush government's illegal war in Iraq.
Phillip McDowell, who is a former sergeant in the United States army, is one of the many resisters who has first-hand experience on the front lines in Iraq. He stated, “throughout my tour, I was told to run civilian cars off the road if they got in the way. I saw the mistreatment of Iraqi civilians or detainees who I found out later had done nothing wrong at all. I saw more evil being brought to the country that we were supposed to be liberating”.
Christopher Magaoay, a former lance corporal in the Marine Corps, echoes McDowell's story. He states, “I was trained and told to train others on how to cover up the killing of non-combatants”.
I will tell members who these non-combatants were. They were innocent civilians.
He goes on to state, “We were told to place shovels, shrapnel and any small arms available next to these bodies. Our instructions were to justify our kills by saying that the deceased was attempting to plant an improvised explosive device and to point to the planted evidence”.
Let us imagine that. Like the other conscientious objectors, Mr. Magaoay had to make a very difficult choice. He said: “I had to make a decision in my life to choose between committing what I know to be crimes under both military and international law or to leave. I couldn't live with myself knowing that I was a part of killing innocent civilians. I know the nightmares that follow the faces of the dead; I chose the path of resistance by coming to Canada”.
Deciding to leave the army, the navy or the marines is never an easy decision for a soldier. In speaking about his decision to leave the army after nine years, Patrick Hart, a supply sergeant who served in Germany, the U.S., and Kuwait after the invasion of Iraq, stated: “I realized I just couldn't continue to be part of the Army any more. It was a hard decision, but in August 2006 I crossed the border from Buffalo, my home town, and came to Toronto”.
Let me tell members that Mr. Hart and his family are contributing daily to the neighbourhood where he lives, which happens to be in my riding of Trinity—Spadina.
Many resisters served their terms of duty in Iraq and vow never to return to any more war. Mr. McDowell explains that when he came back from Iraq: “I was determined not to have any part in this at all. I was determined that when my contract was up with the military, when my volunteer service was over, I was going to separate and not be in the military anymore.
Patrick Hart, who has a child and a wife, explains the reasons that led him to resist serving in Iraq. He said: “While I was in Kuwait I spoke to many of the soldiers who had been to Iraq. When I heard about some of the things they did, [it was] really upsetting, especially what happened to children caught in the fighting. I thought of my son Ryan and realized how horrible it must be for Iraqi parents”.
Leaving the armed forces or getting a reassignment is not an option for war resisters. McDowell told the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that “in the United States military, if a U.S. soldier develops a conscientious objection to a particular war, there is no avenue for him to seek reassignment or transfer to some other place”.
He recounts his own experience after completing his service in June 2006: “I was called back into service involuntarily under the army's Stop Loss policy”. He said, “I was told that I was going to have a 15-month tour in Iraq”.
Disappointed, Mr. McDowell tried to find a way out. He explained: “I told my chain of command that I disagreed with the war and that I didn't want to go. I said I would be in the military and do something in the States, as long as I didn't go to Iraq. They said I did not have a choice; I was going to Iraq”.
Like many other resisters, Mr. McDowell turned to Canada for help. He explains that “knowing that Canada did not participate in the Iraq War and that it made that decision because the United Nations didn't approve of it, and knowing, myself, that the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in 2004, declared the war illegal, I thought it was right for me to move to Canada to take this decision”.
The choice to leave their country, their jobs and their communities also affects the families of these war resisters. Hart, who lives in my riding, said: “--when I told my wife Jill about my decision to leave the Army, she was really upset, but I'm glad to say she decided to join me in Canada”. Their son is in a local school, at Dewson. They are fundraising for the epilepsy association. Jill was the president of the housing co-op. They are volunteering. They are working. Jill is working as a manager of a very popular place, the Lula Lounge, a very famous place where musicians play in Toronto.
Let me tell members that these four Iraq war resisters have said that their stories are not unique and that there are many other resisters here. Another one who served is Chuck Wiley. He served in the army for 17 years. He is a veteran. He decided to leave when he learned that his ship's actions were in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
Another resister, Dean Walcott, a field marine who was deployed in the initial invasion of Iraq and redeployed to serve in a military hospital, left when he learned from the wounded soldiers the truth about what was happening.
Some, like Jeremy Hinzman, came to seek sanctuary, not because of opposition to the war in Iraq but because of a personal aversion to killing fellow humans.
Canada has always been a place of refuge for war resisters--