Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tell Harper to let the War Resisters stay in Canada!

On Tuesday, June 3, the House of Commons will vote on the motion to allow US war resisters to remain in Canada. This is it - this could be the turning point. The campaign suffered a blow when one of the resisters, Corey Glass, was recently informed he is to be deported in a couple of weeks.

People say, "but they volunteered". And this is supposed to make all the difference between the Vietnam war, when draft dodgers and resisters were given refuge in Canada, and the Iraq war. Some facts in response:

1) It's hard for people in a city like Toronto to imagine, but some of these people are subject to what is called the "economic draft". They volunteered because they lived in a place where the army seemed to be the only option. For some, it was the only way to obtain health care and an education. And while they were pondering that...

2) The army recruits agressively. One young American friend of mine tells of how recruiters would not leave him alone in high school. The military has the right to recruit in high schools (something that is being debated at many Canadian universities right now). Plus...

3) Military recruiters are allowed to lie. They can say anything they want. Many prospective soldiers want to enlist, but only if they can get a non-combat position. Many of the war resisters in Canada report that they were assured this would not be a problem. Corey Glass was even told he would only end up in combat if foreign troops entered the US.

4) Some of these resisters have returned from duty in Iraq, and know what is really going on there. Rather than building bridges or handing out candy to children, they were ordered to fire upon unarmed civilians. Their refusal to return is a moral decision - to refuse to kill, to refuse to fight in an illegal war, and to refuse to take part in war crimes.

5) Knowing what we now know, no reasonable person supports the Iraq invasion. Many who say the Iraq resisters volunteered feel that sheltering Vietnam resisters was ok. So if the Iraq resisters had been drafted, we should offer support, but since they volunteered, we should allow them to be forced to fight in an illegal war of aggression?

6) The resisters will not be treated fairly if they have to return to the US. Many resisters are serving jail time as a result of their conscientious objection to the Iraq invasion. They will receive a "bad conduct discharge", which is a felony, which will forever affect their ability to get a job. And while I don't believe even Dubya would be dumb enough to allow it, desertion in the US can be punishable by death.

7) From a letter to the editor in today's Toronto Star:

This is not just an immigration or moral issue – it is an issue of international law. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Iraq war illegal, and the war crimes and crimes against humanity that have occurred throughout the war are well-documented.

Canada cannot pretend to support international law while denying sanctuary to those fleeing war crimes and crimes against humanity. If we expect individuals to uphold international law, then it follows that we must support them and provide sanctuary when they believe they are being asked to do something that violates international law.

So what now? Before Tuesday's vote, call or email Diane Finley (immigration minister) and Stephen Harper. Tell them what the majority of Canadians are feeling. Here is what I wrote:

To: Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley

Please support the motion to allow Iraq war resisters to remain in Canada. Rescind the deportation order against US war resister Corey Glass, and immediately cease all deportation proceedings against all war resisters.

We need you to do the right thing. This is the will of the Canadian people!

The other day, I actually called Stephane Dion's office (before the Liberals declared their support for the war resisters). It was my first time phoning. I hate phoning, and was a bit apprehensive. To my surprise, it was easy and pleasant. No one cares who you are; no one asks your name or personal information. They simply take your comments and tell you they will be passed on, and it's all over in 60 seconds.

On Monday, do the right thing, and phone. If you can't, then email. Here is the contact info:

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley
phone 613.996.4974
fax 613.996.9749

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
phone 613.992.4211
fax 613.941.6900

Tell them you want the Government of Canada to:

  • rescind the deportation order against US war resister Corey Glass, and immediately cease all deportation proceedings against all war resisters

  • support the motion to allow Iraq war resisters to remain in Canada, and

  • support the will of the Canadian people, and not the US's war agenda.
  • Paintball Terrorists

    The case of the "Toronto 18", or "Paintball 18", or "Toronto 11" now that charges against seven have been stayed, has many parallels to the "Project Thread" case which initially got me involved in activism. In that case, "evidence" which looked rock-solid fell apart within a week. In this case, the more we hear, the less reasonable the case appears to be.

    Some things don't change, though. The accused were smeared in the media, and the new norm (at least for Muslims) is to presume the accused are guilty until they are proven innocent. Treatment of the accused is tantamount to torture; a few have been held in solitary confinement for almost two years (a breach of international treaties).

    A few journalists are giving the case some decent coverage, and I believe this will improve as the case continues to fall apart. But can the accused expect justice? And will it happen before some suffer permanent physical or emotional harm?

    Terror case begins to emit ripe aroma

    04:30 AM
    Thomas Walkom
    Toronto Star

    Two years ago, this country received a rude shock. On June 2, 2006, the Star reported that police had arrested 17 young Toronto-area Muslim-Canadian males (an 18th would be picked up a few weeks later) on charges of terrorism.

    The allegations that dribbled out over the next few weeks were sensational.

    Some reports said that the group had planned to attack Parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others talked of a plot to blow up CBC – or maybe the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – headquarters in Toronto. There were lurid accounts of a jihadist training camp near Orillia.

    Police said that some of the accused had tried to purchase enough fertilizer to make three Oklahoma City-style bombs.

    In the media, security experts said the arrests proved that Canada was not immune to terrorism, while diversity experts wrung their hands and asked what the country had done wrong.

    It was widely assumed that the Toronto 18 were all guilty of plotting heinous crimes.

    Two years later, matters are much less clear. The Crown has, in effect, dropped all charges against seven of the 18 – including a man convicted in the original gun-smuggling case that helped bring the group to police attention. The trial of the one remaining minor still charged with an offence is just getting underway.

    What has been allowed to emerge from various court hearings (the case is subject to a sweeping publication ban) suggests that whatever was going on may not have been as spectacular as had been first suggested.

    The training camp appears to have been a sorry affair in which the alleged jihadists spent most of their time complaining and trekking to a local doughnut shop.

    The threats against politicians seem to be based, in part, on a brief, desultory conversation during a 10-hour car ride during which some of the accused debated among themselves just who exactly the Prime Minister was.

    Much of the case seems to rest on the testimony of two RCMP moles, one of whom was later criminally charged in an unrelated matter, both of whom received hefty payments for their work.

    Curiously, a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to charge the adult accused was abruptly terminated by the Crown just as defence lawyers were preparing to cross-examine one of those moles.

    The trial proper of the 10 remaining adult accused has still not started. When it does, most analysts expect a bevy of procedural and perhaps constitutional challenges from defence lawyers attempting, among other things, to ascertain the exact role of CSIS in the case.

    Estimates of how long the entire trial could take range from a few months (the government's guess) to several years.

    Defence lawyer Paul Slansky, who represents 20-year-old Saad Gaya, says he expects the trial will take five to seven years to finish.

    All of this raises questions of timely justice. In the 1990 Askov case, the Supreme Court ruled that unreasonably lengthy criminal proceedings may contravene the Constitution's Charter of Rghts and that, in such situations, defendants are to be released without charge.

    The top court set no firm time limit. But seasoned lawyers are already catching a whiff of Askov in the breeze.

    "We defence counsel talk about cases getting to be charter-ripe," says Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland, who does not represent any of the 18. "I would think this terror case is getting close to ripe."

    Why I blog.

    I've toyed with the idea of blogging for a very long time, after stumbling across a couple of blogs that amused me, and after seeing that a number of friends were doing it. But all of the successful blogs I've seen have a devoted audience which reads and responds regularly. Part of the fun of blogging is the discussion that ensues. There is nothing that is more dismal in the blogging world than a blog that is obviously not read, and if that is clear from the observer's perspective, imagine how the blogger feels. That's been my main deterrent all along.

    A friend, who has blogged about his experience in immigrating to Canada to escape persecution in the US, explained that he made his decision to blog partly as a record of his experience, which he can already look back on as a reminder of the ordeal of his past. It was this discussion which finally caused things to click. Blogging can be many things. It's difficult if you want to generate a following from scratch, and are going to rely on people to visit regularly, which can be asking a lot. But if you are doing it for your own reasons, to record your ideas and concerns, as a diary or historical record, then an audience would be nice, but is not necessary. And this is especially important to realize if you don't have time to blog every day, which I don't. Even the most loyal readers will lose interest if you stop publishing.

    Over the past year, I've found myself wanting to write, as something comes to my attention that bothers me or that I want to discuss. I've published notes on Facebook, but I don't think a lot of people pay attention; Facebook offers too many other distractions.

    And there is more and more to write about. Being born and raised in Canada, I've always thought this was the greatest country in the world. We're peacekeepers! We're kinder and gentler. We do the right thing. I was so patriotic, I got a tattoo of the flag on my shoulder.

    But following the arrests of 18 suspected terrorists in 2003, I got involved in activism. I was dismayed that this was happening in my country, and I waited to see proof that these accused men were guilty. The proof never came. The issue was swept under the rug, leaving most Canadians with the impressions that (1) the men were guilty, and (2) our amazing authorities were working day and night to keep us safe and sound. After some (not very deep) digging, I discovered that neither assumption was true.

    Since then, my involvement in activism has changed my entire outlook on my country, its government, the work of police and the military, the media, and all of their motives. While I have hope for a better world, it's going to take a lot of work to get us there. And it ain't gonna happen without the struggle of "ordinary" citizens to push our governments to do the right things, and to push our media to tell the truth. It'll take time. So here I am, getting to work.