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Canada: U.S. military deserters not saved by Liberal bill
by Bryn Weese
Ottawa - A Liberal private member’s bill to grant U.S. military deserters permanent residency in Canada died at second reading Wednesday by a vote of 143 to 136. All Conservatives voted against Gerard Kennedy’s bill -- as did some of his Liberal colleagues -- while most opposition MPs supported it.
The bill would have allowed all military deserters — not just those from the U.S. — to apply for permanent residence as conscientious objectors to armed conflicts not sanctioned by the United Nations.
Kennedy said his bill wouldn’t have been necessary if the government would only take an objective view to the asylum applications of U.S. soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq.
“Conscientious objection should exist,” Kennedy said. “Yes, you must follow orders. Yes, if you sign up, you’ll have to do things, but if you come up against something that your moral compass won’t let you do, you should refuse.”
There are an estimated 300 to 400 U.S. military deserters currently in Canada.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called Kennedy’s bill, which he said amounts to accusing U.S. President Barack Obama of persecuting his own citizens, “outrageous.
“He (Kennedy) should recall that Canadians who desert from their voluntary military service to the Canadian Forces are subject to very serial penal sanctions,” Kenney said. “I think it would be a fundamentally wrong message to send to our own men and women in uniform that we would treat foreign deserters like heroes but treat them like criminals.”
During the 1960s and 70s, tens of thousands of Americans fled to Canada looking to avoid the Vietnam draft.
But Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, parliamentary secretary to the defence minister and a former Lt.-Col. in the air force, said the two situations are very different.
“This is not a conscripted army, this is a volunteer army,” he said. “If they (the deserters) have issues with that, they should stay in their own country and fight it out in their own courts.”
Bryn Weese: Canada: U.S. military deserters not saved by Liberal bill. Toronto Sun, September 30, 2010. www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/09/29/15524356.html