Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the lives of young men and women such as Kimberly Rivera, Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, Joshua Key, all brave young soldiers. Patrick Hart, for example, had been in the army for eight years. He was in the first Iraq war and then he went back. We are talking about their lives and I cannot help but talk about their lives because what we do here and what the government chooses to do makes a big difference to their lives. They could either go to jail for months or years, or they could live peacefully in this country.
The reason why I choose to talk about their lives is because often in this House we debate points, we debate theories, we very seldom talk about what we do that has a direct impact on the lives of people who are in Canada. I have to talk about their lives, especially the life of Robin Long, who is now in jail even though he has a Canadian born son.
I have to talk about Patrick Hart because he lives in my riding. He has been in Iraq. He described in graphic detail what was happening in Iraq. He has a son who attends a school in my riding whose friends and classmates are my constituents' children. Patrick volunteered to fundraise for the Epilepsy Association of Canada and his wife works in the Lula Lounge which is a very famous Queen Street pub in my area where a lot of my constituents go.
Their lives are very much connected to the lives of ordinary Canadians. A poll showed at least 65% of ordinary Canadians said that we must let the war resisters stay, they are our neighbours. If we then asked other Canadians, some of them will tell us that they came to Canada during the Vietnam War and made Canada their home.
Last night I was at another meeting talking about waterfront revitalization. One middle-aged man, very well dressed and doing very well, probably a lawyer from the way he was talking at the meeting, came to me privately afterwards and thanked me for the work that I was doing for the war resisters. He came to Canada from the U.S. when he was asked to go to Vietnam and he did not go to that war. He told me he was so happy that he is a Canadian and he has been in Canada since the early seventies.
Yes, I am talking about the lives of quite a few of these war resisters. I have to because what we do here has an impact on their lives.
Kimberly Rivera and her four month-old daughter came to Parliament Hill. She drove five hours each way, so 10 hours yesterday, to tell us what kind of life she is having in Canada, how she loves this country. I was very pleased to see that my colleagues from both the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois were with us at the press conference yesterday morning. Imagine a young baby, four months old, being torn away from her mother and not being able to continue living with her mother because her mother is cruelly thrown in jail and can no longer continue to breastfeed her baby. Make no mistake about it, once a mother is in jail she cannot take care of her children and Kimberly Rivera has three children.
Many war resisters work in Canada. Corey Glass, for example, has a very good job in Canada. If we were to have a program that allowed them to stay, it would have a dramatic impact on their lives.
I want to remind members of Parliament that in the early 1970s, after a great debate that lasted for over a year, the government, finally made the wise decision to allow at least 50,000 Americans to stay in Canada. They were the ones who would not fight in Vietnam.
It is an identical parallel situation right now because what is happening in Iraq is very similar. Canada chose not to fight the war in Iraq. It chose not to fight the war in Vietnam. We really should allow war resisters to remain in Canada.
Also, I want to remind members that this was debated in the immigration committee in the last Parliament. It was debated again during this session and the discussions were very similar. We need to remember that it is not a very difficult decision, even on humanitarian grounds, to allow war resisters to stay.
I want to put the words of Robin Long on the record in the few minutes I have left. He stated:
In 2004, when Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada, the federal government stepped in at his refugee hearing and said that evidence challenging the legality of the war in Iraq cannot be used in his case.
The U.N. Handbook for Refugees and the Nuremburg Principals say: “a soldier of an army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. They also have the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention”.
By refusing to allow him, and by precedent all other claimants, the right to use the argument that the war was illegal, the decision closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
The invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal act of aggression. The U.S. was not under attack or the imminent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq. The action was also not approved by the U.N. Security Council.
By taking this stance, the Conservative government is condoning the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq.
Is this what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have also realized it to be a mistake. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding onto the idea and still deporting war resisters?
Why are they separating families and being complicit in the incarceration of morally strong young men and women? What message is this sending?
Parliament voted to let war resisters remain. In June of 2008 Canada’s Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. The vote passed. In agreement with the vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution.
But in defiance of Parliament and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government led by [the] Prime Minister and Immigration Minister ignored the bill. The government stated that all refugee claimants are give a fair chance to plead their case at the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters wasn’t fair to the other claimants. The government has also stated in the past that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the U.S. which they say has a fair and transparent justice system and we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
That is not the case. Robin Long went on to state:
On July 14th, 2008 in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community are, [the] Federal Judge...stated that I didn't prove I would be treated harshly by the U.S. military for being a political outspoken opponent to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration policy.
Robin Long continued to tell us, even in jail, that the trial he received was not fair in his mind. He said that the only evidence used against him was the newspaper clippings and a CBC tape in Canada where he talked about his experience and why he would not go to Iraq. In these newspaper clippings he talked about his inability or his colleagues' inability to find any weapons of mass destruction. That was the only evidence that was used against Robin Long in his trial.
He also said that he was given 15 months, which is much harsher than a lot of the other soldiers. He gave the example of a person called Belmor Ramos who was sentenced to only seven months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the case of four Iraqi men. In 2007 he stood guard while others blindfolded and shot in the head four unidentified Iraqi men and afterwards dumped the bodies in a Baghdad canal. During his court martial Belmor Ramos admitted his guilt, stating, “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this”. That man got seven months, whereas Mr. Robin Long, who refused to participate in the killing, got 15 months. Where is the justice? The system is just not fair and impartial. Robin Long asked, “Can it really be transparent when you don't know why you are being sentenced for speaking out?”
What we have are some very brave young men and women who want to make Canada their home. Parliament has debated this issue several times. I hope for the lives of people like Joshua Key, Jeremy Hintzman and Kimberly Rivera that we allow these war resisters to stay in Canada. We are not talking of a great number. There are some who have been in Canada for four to five years. Even on humanitarian grounds there is no reason to deport them. Many have Canadian born children. I hope that the government will open its heart for a change and listen to the stories of these young men and women and allow them to stay in Canada. I believe they make excellent Canadian citizens.