Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are aware that I as well tabled a notice of motion to concur in the same committee report.
As I rise today to offer my thoughts and reflections on this very important issue, I am reminded of a speech delivered by the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, regarding Canada's decision not to take part in the war in Iraq. In 2003 the former prime minister said:
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today to support the motion before the House, a principled motion where we reaffirm our decision not to participate in the war in Iraq--
From the beginning, Canada took a stand against military intervention in Iraq. Canada's position was to work collectively through the United Nations to accomplish the objectives we shared with our allies, those of disarming Saddam Hussein and working toward enhanced human rights, the international rule of law, as well as peace in the region.
As an independent country, Canada decided not to send troops into battle. As the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien said in an address to the House of Commons:
The decision on whether or not to send troops into battle must always be a decision of principle, not a decision of economics, not even a decision of friendship, alone.
A decision not to engage in war was the right decision, a decision that Canadians strongly supported. It was a defining moment in our nation's history. In the fight against global terrorism and other exceptionally trying challenges, we have always supported a multilateral approach. As a nation, we must have confidence in our principles and trust that our sound values will guide our decisions and actions.
Although Canada did not support the war in Iraq, we share the same fundamental goals as our allies. We believe in international peace and security. As in 2003 our belief in peace, justice and freedom and the hope for a better tomorrow are no different today.
The matter before the House is one that inspires sympathy, concern and support among the vast majority of Canadians. It is important to listen to the voice of Canadians who have expressed support and understanding for this cause. Over the last few years a growing number of people have left the United States of America's military refusing to fight in the war in Iraq. Some of them are seeking sanctuary in Canada. Dozens of U.S. war resisters have sought refuge in Canada and more individuals continue to arrive every month.
Canada has a proud history of welcoming war resisters. In fact, during the Vietnam war, over 50,000 Americans came here. Unfortunately on May 21, 2008, war resister Corey Glass was told that his application to stay in Canada has been rejected and now faces deportation. Glass would be the first Iraq war resister to be deported from Canada.
Today I would like to discuss this matter as it affects individuals who have been living in Canada and contributing to the social and economic fibre of this country. I would also like to share with the House the views expressed by the witnesses who presented their case before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
In fact, it is important to note that after hearing from groups and individuals on the matter of U.S. war resisters seeking refuge in Canada, the committee adopted a motion on December 6 recommending that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their families to stay in Canada. It also calls for an immediate halt to the deportation proceedings in these cases.
The third report, adopted by the committee on December 11, 2007 and presented to the House on December 13, 2007, reads as follows:
In accordance with its mandate pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your Committee has considered the issue of Iraq war resisters.
The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.
This report served as a sign of hope and an important step forward for conscientious objectors. It demonstrated a willingness on behalf of the opposition parties in Canada's Parliament to come together to ensure that none of these individuals would be returned to the U.S. where they would face potential court martials, incarceration and possible deployment to Iraq.
Let me tell the House the story of one of the witnesses who the committee heard from during a hearing on this issue. The committee had the opportunity of meeting with Mr. Phillip McDowell, a former sergeant in the United States army. Mr. McDowell had volunteered for the army shortly after the tragic events that occurred on September 11 because he felt that his country was under attack.
Mr. McDowell said:
I didn't join or volunteer to take part in an illegal war or a war of aggression....When I came back from Iraq, I was determined not to have any part in this at all. I 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. However, after I did that in June 2006, I was called back into service involuntarily under the army's Stop Loss policy. I was told that I was going to have a 15-month tour in Iraq. I told my chain of command that I disagreed with the war and that I didn't want to go....I tried to contact my elected officials to explain to them how I felt about that. They said, sorry, there were a lot of people in the same situation, that I didn't have a choice, and that I was going to Iraq.
There are many other resisters in Canada who have come to seek refuge. Among them are Patrick Hart, an army sergeant with nine years of service, Chuck Wylie who was chief petty officer with 17 years of service, Dean Walcott who was a field marine deployed in the initial invasion of Iraq, Kim Rivera, a mother of two who was told by her recruiter that women were rarely deployed to combat zones. Less than a year later, she was in Iraq, unable to cope with the abuse and indiscriminate violence she witnessed. Among others was Jeremy Hinzman who applied for conscientious objector status. He asked for non-combat duty and was denied.
People may ask what is the stop loss policy? Let me explain. In the United States military, stop loss, as Mr. McDowell explains, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term service date.
The problem for individuals such as Mr. McDowell is the military service has in fact become involuntary. Many conscientious objectors, such as Phillip McDowell, come to Canada much like the soldiers who deserted during the Vietnam war in search of shelter and safety. In fact, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau welcomed such soldiers as he believed that Canada should be a refuge from military.
Another reason for individuals refusing to fight in a war in Iraq and seeking refuge in Canada is their knowledge that Canada did not participate in the Iraq war.
According to Mr. McDowell:
—knowing, myself, that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in 2004, declared the war illegal, I felt it was right for me to move to Canada to take this decision.
Mr. McDowell further stated:
—many people say there are no deserters doing time. Many people say they receive less than honourable discharges. However, a quick search on the Internet will show you that Sergeant Kevin Benderman deserted and served 15 months, bad conduct discharge; Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was sentenced to one year, bad conduct discharge; Stephen Funk was sentenced to six months, bad conduct discharge; Ivan Brobeck was sentenced to eight months, bad conduct discharge; Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months, bad conduct discharge.
The problem with such cases, as Mr. McDowell explained:
—bad conduct discharge is a felony conviction, on your record for the rest of your life because you didn't want to take part in a war that you believed was illegal.
During the same committee meeting, Gay Anne Broughton, an individual representing the organization Canadian Friends Service Committee, presented evidence in support of conscientious objectors. Ms. Broughton explained:
The right to conscientious objection to military service derives from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It can be based on religious, ethical, moral, philosophical, humanitarian, or related motives. These rights are captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also article 18. Canada is a signatory to both and includes these rights in its Constitution.
According to Ms. Broughton's testimony:
These instruments assert that these rights apply to everyone. Conscientious objection to military service is a legitimate exercise of this right, and a decision by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2006 in favour of two conscientious objectors from the Republic of Korea put to rest any question of that.
In addition, she noted:
Military personnel, whether volunteer or conscript, can develop a conscientious objection. Resolution 1998/77 of the UN human rights commission recognized this. That resolution puts no limits on whether the objection is to all war or to a particular war. Indeed, it is most often through experience itself that many basic human attributes, including conscience, are developed....Soldiers who are uninformed of their rights and do not have access to an independent assessment process are left with the choice to desert or to violate their conscience, which is perhaps the most sacred aspect of being human.
Ms. Broughton also pointed out that under the UN High Commission for Refugees handbook, paragraph 170, conscientious objectors qualified as refugees. The paragraph states as follows:
There are, however, also cases where the necessity to perform military service may be the sole ground for a claim to refugee status, i.e. when a person can show that the performance of military service would have required his participation in military action contrary to his genuine political, religious or moral convictions, or to valid reasons of conscience.
Ms. Broughton explained that the published record and testimony given in hearings in courts showed that these young men and women met this requirement and according to paragraph 171 of the handbook, their right to asylum hinged on the military action they were objecting to being condemned by the international community.
As I mentioned earlier, the witness, Phillip McDowell, explained how in this case the Iraq war was indeed condemned by the international community.
On the same issue, it is important to remember that following the second world war, the Nuremberg tribunal set out important principles of international law. Those principles established that soldiers had a moral duty, not a choice, to refuse to carry out illegal orders.
The United Nations formulated the elements of morality and conscience, as set out in the Nuremberg principle, into international law.
The government has a very important choice. It is really not compelled to force these individuals to go back to a country where they may face prosecution under military law, or may be permanently branded for making a principled decision.
Five years ago I believe the Liberal government made a principled decision not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations. I personally feel we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decision based on their personal principles. Fairness and justice is all about that.
Perhaps this is an uncomfortable position for the government to be in. Observers of Canada's political scene and Canadians would remember the present Prime Minister's position on the war in Iraq. Therefore, I can understand why there would be some concern about the position on war resisters, and I can appreciate that.
I can appreciate that it would create division within government if, by any chance, some members of the Conservative Party were to get on their feet and stand up for what I believe is fairness and justice to individuals seeking fairness and justice. I understand all that, but there comes a time when parliamentarians must stand up for what we believe, where fundamental rights are being challenged, and say to these individuals that, yes, they can stay.
As I said, we should not punish individuals and their families for making the same decisions based on their personal principles.
I ask the members of the House to support our endeavour as a committee of Parliament. We took the time to listen to individuals in need. They want help from us. Above all, we want to bring hope, fairness and, most of all, justice to them. This motion is all about that. The committee stands for justice for people in need of justice.