Gov. website changes undermine war resisters: critics
OTTAWA - The Harper government is denying claims that it stripped a section on Vietnam from a federal website to boost its case for deporting Iraq war resisters.
Text on how both draft dodgers and resisters of the Vietnam War were ultimately allowed to stay in Canada suddenly vanished from the Citizenship and Immigration site earlier this year.
"Starting in 1965, Canada became a choice haven for American draft-dodgers and deserters," said the passage as it appeared online in February.
"Although some of these transplanted Americans returned home after the Vietnam War, most of them put down roots in Canada, making up the largest, best-educated group this country had ever received."
Fast-forward to 2009, and the Harper government takes a much dimmer view of dozens of U.S. soldiers who've come north after refusing to serve in Iraq -- an invasion never sanctioned by the United Nations.
Some have already been deported to face military jail terms ranging from about six to 15 months.
Several others expect to receive removal orders at any time.
An internal document released under the Access to Information Act summarizes the government's position:
"Unlike American draft dodgers who immigrated to Canada during the Vietnam conflict, the individuals coming to Canada now voluntarily joined the United States military and have subsequently deserted."
A spokesman for the War Resisters Support Campaign says the Conservative stance is flawed and misleading.
In fact, many Americans volunteered to serve in Vietnam only to recoil from a horrific mission and flee to Canada, said Ken Marciniec. They, too, were allowed to settle here after 1969 following some initial legal wrangling.
Marciniec has been stonewalled since February in his attempts through the Access to Information Act to discover why the accurate history of Vietnam -- including the welcoming of both draft dodgers and deserters -- was cut from the government website. At first his applications were delayed, then he received a heavily censored response dated June 26 that offered no explanation, he said.
Department officials told The Canadian Press on Friday that the document in question, called "Forging our Legacy," was indeed removed.
The reason? An "accessibility audit" found "it did not comply with (federal) common look and feel requirements" that help viewers use websites, said spokeswoman Karen Shadd in an emailed response.
She did not immediately clarify how the document failed these standards.
Marciniec says it was likely stripped because "it directly contradicted the government's claim" that Iraq war resisters are voluntary deserters who can't be compared with Vietnam draft dodgers.
"The minority Harper government is misleading Canadians about Iraq war resisters to distract from the fact that they're ignoring the direction of Parliament, and the will of the majority of Canadians who want the deportations to stop immediately."
The majority opposition in Parliament has passed a non-binding motion to let Iraq resisters stay.
And an Angus Reid poll last year found 64 per cent of Canadians want the removals to end, and would support a program to offer permanent resident status to the troops.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney drew fire from Amnesty International and other critics earlier this year when he described the AWOL soldiers as "bogus" refugee claimants.
His spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, said Kenney had nothing to do with removing the website material on Vietnam and was not even aware of it.
Marciniec says recent estimates from across Canada put the number of Iraq war resisters at more than 200. Many are living underground, afraid of being deported.
Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq vet to publicly seek refuge in Canada, deserted while on leave from her first tour of duty in February 2007.
"I don't agree with the war," she said in an interview from Toronto. "I didn't have that opinion until after going there."
She is haunted by the traumatized kids she saw while serving as a gate guard.
"It's like they're looking right into your soul. And they're asking one simple question: 'Why are you hurting my family? What did I do to you?' And I couldn't answer that question for the life of me."
Rivera, a 27-year-old mother of three children aged seven, four and seven months, was ordered to return to the U.S. after her request to stay in Canada on compassionate and humanitarian grounds was denied.
She will argue in Federal Court on Wednesday that the immigration officer who ordered her removal didn't comprehend what Rivera faces back in the U.S.
Soldiers who've spoken out against the Iraq war have received much stiffer penalties than deserters who keep quiet, said Rivera's lawyer Alyssa Manning.
A joint letter signed June 26 by the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Quebecois urged the Conservatives "to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations."