Writing in a blog post on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Gerard Kennedy submits what may be considered an impassioned plea for Canadians to support his bill to provide asylum to American war resisters.
In his plea, Kennedy envokes the memory of the Vietnam war and argues that Canada should offer asylum to American soldiers who come to Canada to avoid service, as consientious objectors were during the Vietnam war:
"A generation ago, Canada accepted thousands of "draft-dodgers" and also thousands of resisters who left active military service in the United States because of that conflict.It should be noted that, while the second question actually opens the article, it seems to be a much more appropriate
Have the intervening years since the Vietnam War really made us that much more timid as a people?"
Kennedy's comparison of the current state of affairs is only one part of his post. Gerard Kennedy being Gerard Kennedy, he does help himself to an opportunity to throw in a partisan attack on the Conservative government.
But Kennedy would be well-advised to look in his own partisan back yard before casting stones at the government over this matter. After all, his own leader has raised significant concerns about sheltering American war resisters in Canada:
"Many, many very deep and and close friends of mine when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto came up to Canada to resist the draft. A Prime Minister that I very much admire made that a principle for Canada to give refuge to people who, for reasons of conscience, could not serve.Ignatieff made these comments in 2007, during a visit to the University of Alberta.
But I think that without pronouncing finally on the issue, I think there are some substantive differences between the situation in the '60s and the situation now. The individuals concerned volunteered for military service. The draft is not involved. Compulsion was not involved in the Iraqi case. I've met some of them personally. They volunteered for service and then came to have moral difficulties which they have every right to have. Now they want to stay.
The difficulty I have is that we are allies of the United States. Being an ally doesn't necessarily mean we approve of their policies in Iraq, but we're shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan.
I'm uncomfortable about saying that people who volunteer for military service for a NATO ally should be given refuge in a country that is also an ally actively involved in combat. I'm not pronouncing finally on this, I'm just trying to be open and honest about my actual difficulty. This is an actual difficulty for me.
I don't want us to sacrifice our tradition of being a country that is a haven for people who have problems of conscience with military service, but I don't see that there is a perfect fit between what we did in the 1960s and what we're being asked for in ."
But Ignatieff is perfectly right to point out how difficult the issue of war resistors really is.
There is some room to evaluate these individuals based on their individual cases. Situations in which war resistors have been "stop lossed" (essentially press ganged into another tour of duty, which is effectively a form of conscription) or situations where an individual may have a legitimate religious objection or medical condition, there is clearly some room for discretion.
But in some specific cases -- such as that of Brad McCall, who enlisted in the US military after the war in Iraq was already in progress, ought to not have a prayer.
(McCall also had the temerity to move to Canada and start a blog insisting that "War resisters welcome here" -- as if he, not a non-citizen of this country, has any kind of right to make that pronouncement.)
Ignatieff is right to note that the matters surrounding US war resisters in Canada has grown significantly more complex since the end of the Vietnam war. To pretend that the situations are one and the same does no one any great service.
Whether Gerard Kennedy's bill is born of genuine concern over the issue or just a blatant attempt to pander to the anti-war movement is another matter entirely.