TORONTO – American soldiers who fled to Canada rather than fight in Iraq joined activists and a Liberal backbencher on Friday to urge the government of Justin Trudeau to end legal action against them and grant them residency status.
Bolstered by a recent British report that found no justification for the bloody U.S.-led invasion, the war resisters pleaded for the Liberal government to make good on promises to end their state of limbo.
“I’m shocked and dismayed that it’s still going on,” former U.S. Marine Cpl. Dean Walcott, 34, who came to Canada in 2006, told a news conference.
Walcott, who lives with his wife and Canadian-born children in Peterborough, Ont., is one of four American soldiers whose cases are due in Federal Court in September. Activists say the litigation is going forward even though Trudeau expressed support for the war dodgers during last year’s election campaign and told The Canadian Press earlier this year that his government was actively looking into the issue.
Also facing judicial action is Jeremy Brockway, 31, another U.S. Marine who returned from Iraq in 2007 with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome that keeps him largely housebound. He came to Canada in 2008 after being ordered to deploy to Iraq for a third time.
His wife, Ashlea, choked back tears as she described the stress of not knowing whether they and their three Canadian-born children — aged 8, 6, and 3 — will be forced to leave their home in Port Colborne, Ont., and return to the U.S. to face a possible court martial.
“We came to Canada to save his life,” Ashlea Brockway said. “Canada is our home and is the only home our children have known.”
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, scores of American soldiers opted to come to Canada rather than fight a war they saw as without justification. The former Conservative government under Stephen Harper essentially branded them as criminals.
Some were forced to return to the U.S. About two dozen are still in Canada fighting for status.
Former CBC radio host Andy Barrie, an American military deserter, lent his voice to the cause, describing how he came to Canada in 1969 and was granted permanent residence status immediately.
“When I crossed the border, I got out of my car and I kissed the ground,” Barrie said. “I knew I was going to be OK.”
Barrie noted that Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, welcomed American deserters and draft dodgers into Canada and about 100,000 of them were given sanctuary here.
Immigration Minister John McCallum did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Liberal backbencher Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said he’s been raising the issue with the government and is “hopeful that action is going to be taken.” He could offer no details.
New Democrat immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, noted that war resister Rodney Watson, who has a Canadian-born son, has spent almost seven years in church sanctuary in Vancouver. Conscientious objectors must have a pathway to citizenship in Canada, Kwan said.
“Let the families get on with their lives,” she said.
Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, said the U.K. inquiry into the Iraq war concluded that the “war was based on lies” and would lead to catastrophe. U.S. soldiers who sought refuge in Canada because they could not in good conscience fight in Iraq, she said, should be welcome to stay.
“Each week that goes by adds on to the 10 years of uncertainty and undue hardship that the Harper government inflicted on U.S. war resisters,” Robidoux said.