Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park for bringing Bill C-440, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (war resisters), to the House.
This is not the first time we have debated the issue of war resisters. A motion, first presented to Parliament on May 29, 2008, by the member for Trinity—Spadina, was based on an earlier Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration motion that called for the creation of a special government program to allow conscientious objectors, and their families, who had been refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations to apply for permanent resident status.
The motion also called for the government to immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.
There are currently more than 200 Iraqi war resisters in Canada. They are either living underground or they have declared themselves in Canada. This group of men and women of all ages, ranks, family status, political affiliation, has been living and working in Canada since 2004, when the first war resister, Jeremy Hinzman, crossed the border into Canada after his U.S. conscientious objector application was denied and he ran out of other legal options. Since then, the community of resisters and community members have been determinedly fighting for the right of these young men and women to remain in Canada.
The current private member's bill supports the tradition that Canadians respect, and that is the hopes, the wishes and the conscience of those who refuse to commit human rights violations. This goes back in our history. Most of us will remember, most notably, the days of the Vietnam war in the 1960s and the mostly young men but a few young women who came here and became part of our country's fabric, who made tremendous contributions.
The 2008 motion and the subsequent motion from March 2009, again from the member for Trinity—Spadina, passed in the House.
I will tell the members a bit about our experiences of war resisters in London, Ontario.
In total about 10 war resisters have called London home over the past 5 years. London currently has three living in the community. These people are not looking for a free ride. Every one of them went out and found work as soon as they received work permits. Often they were low-paying entry jobs. These young men and women struggled to make ends meet, but they, nonetheless, worked to pay their own way. They also became active volunteers, participating in a number of community projects, including this past spring, helping to plant trees along Veterans Memorial Parkway in my riding, in memory of London's fallen soldiers.
I want to talk about one young man in particular because I think his story is important and it is important for the House to hear the story.
The young man, Josh Randall, joined the American army at age 17 because of lack of any other opportunity. He came from a very poor family. Poverty was the reality. He knew the only way he could escape that poverty for he and his future family was the offer of an education from the army. Therefore, he trained as a medic and was sent to Iraq.
One of his jobs, in addition to being a medic, being there to look after those who were wounded, was to go on night patrols. I do not know if members know much about these night patrols, but basically three or four soldiers would go into a neighbourhood. They were supposed to be searching for insurgents. They had to break into a house to do the search. They would put an explosives belt around the door and blow it in so they could gain entry. A lot of damage is caused by that kind of explosion as, in the case of these homes, most of the doors are made of wood.
At any rate, this group would plant the explosives, break into the house, and they would go from room to room to see if they could find insurgents.
On this particular night, Josh was with his group, and they did what they were supposed to do: they burst into the home and quickly made a search. There were no insurgents there, but there were three females: a young mother, her 12-year-old-daughter, and her little one, who was about three years old. Josh said that the three-year-old had been hit with splinters and the woodwork from the door. Her face and chest was covered with splinters, and she was bleeding profusely and crying desperately.
The mother knew only one word of English, and that was “girl”. She kept pointing to the child and saying, “girl”. It was clear that it was a plea for help. Because of his training, Josh immediately wanted to go to work, because he knew that the wounds were such that this child would bleed to death, and that he was the only one who could help her.
He was ordered out of the house. The sergeant said they had an obligation to get out of here and go on to the next house. He said not to worry about it, that the Red Crescent Society would come in and it will look after the child and she would be fine. Josh knew that this was not true. For this woman to get help would be impossible, because she would be leaving the child alone in her misery and her despair.
That was what convinced him that what his country was doing was wrong and he had to leave.
He had already served his tour. He came home and was terrified that he would be a victim of the stop-loss policy, that they would break the contract that he had signed and force him to go back to Iraq and continue to do the kinds of things that he simply could not do. He could not bring himself to be part of that anymore.
Josh is in London, Ontario now. He brought his young wife with him to Canada and they have a child, a little fellow who was born last May. That little one is the light of their lives, an incredible child.
I think in light of what Josh experienced, we have to be aware of what we are doing here in this place. To stand up and talk about how people will abuse the right to stay in Canada is beside the point. The point is that people came here acting on conscience, and they had real reason.
I want to read a bit of what Josh has to say. I want to put his own words on the record. He said:
I would first like to say that I am no longer a member of the United States armed forces. When I crossed the border January 3, 2008, I had little intention of crossing back over that border. I have officially and strongly resigned from a military that insists on occupying a country and ignoring the rights of the impoverished indigenous peoples. I am no longer a soldier in the U.S. army. I will never stop being a soldier. A soldier fights for the oppressed; he does not become the oppressor himself. Defending your country does not mean destroying other nations out of, or for, revenge.
It certainly does not mean invoking “my country right or wrong“ as a reason for plundering the resources of another country, as we have seen in Iraq. It is pretty clear that this war was as much about oil as it was about any indignity done to the United States.
The fact that Iraq was targeted instead of another nation when the government of the U.S. knew that Iraqis did not play a role in 9/11 leads us to be suspicious of all this.
I want to finish with a word about the reality that we face in Canada with regard to our own military: we need to support our own military as much as any of those coming in.
I will leave my remarks at that.