Friday April 15, 2016

Who's helping the war resisters?

Iraq war resister Jeremy Hinzman with immigration lawyer Alyssa Manning in Toronto

Iraq war resister Jeremy Hinzman with immigration lawyer Alyssa Manning in Toronto (Courtesy A. Manning)

When Alyssa Manning grew up in Kingston Ontario,  she was well aware of the seven prisons surrounding her.

"Through my experience growing up in Kingston I saw a lot of problems with the criminal justice system," said Manning.

Manning was determined to make a difference. So after she graduated from law school she took an articling position with a legal aid clinic in Toronto.

One of the first cases that appeared on her desk was that of an Iraq war resister named Dean Walcott.  

Manning read the file and met with Dean. "I became very inspired by the principled stance that these men and women had taken against the Iraq war as well as their determination in ensuring that their concerns about what was happening on the ground in Iraq were heard by the rest of the world," she recalled.

She has been representing Iraq war resisters in their immigration matters in Canada since 2007. 

"These soldiers should not be required to participate or associate with actions that involve breaches of the Geneva Conventions and human rights abuses,"  said Manning.

When people ask her about the war resisters' cases, they don't always understand why American military personnel can't go back to the United States and raise their concerns there.

"Unfortunately there is a substantial gap between the arguments that a soldier can make in the U.S. to justify refusing service  and what International Law entitles a soldier to refuse service for," she explained.

"In the United States, a soldier can only refuse service if they've been directly ordered to commit a war crime."

"So for example," she continued. "It doesn't matter if everybody else in your unit is involved in inappropriate behaviour and you see them involved in that and say 'I don't want to be associated with that.'" "That's not enough in the U.S."

"As a result, these men and women who came to Canada seeking status would not have been able to raise their concerns about what was happening in Iraq within the U.S. Court Martial system."

Manning also said that when American war resisters go public about their experiences, they face more severe punishment. 


Michelle Robidoux is a founding member of the War Resister's Support Campaign in Toronto. 

Michelle Robidoux

Michelle Robidoux rallying for war resisters (War Resisters Support Campaign)



Her fighting spirit is what the war resisters need.

Robidoux is part of a group of volunteers that has been meeting every Wednesday night in Toronto since January of 2005.  That's when the first modern day American war resister, Jeremy Hinzman arrived in Canada.    

"Every time a U.S. soldier contacted us and said 'I just returned from a deployment to Iraq. I think I'm going to lose my mind if I'm forced to go back there,'" she explained -- "we felt we had a real purpose to contribute to finding them a resolution."

She said that so many of the soldiers she's encountered are completely destroyed. 

"They're psychologically injured," she said. "They're physically injured. And they're getting no help…for a war that was completely wrong and should never have happened."

Robidoux says it's important that soldiers' voices are heard because not enough people listen to them.

"They are in the best position to tell you exactly what is going on," she pointed out.

"Their stories remind the world about what happened in Iraq, how much it has destabilized the whole region, how much it has produced the horrors of what we are seeing now."

"Every time a ship is crossing the Mediterranean loaded with refugees from Syria, it's related to the war that these U.S. soldiers opposed."

Robidoux is quick to point out that a lot of Canadians have taken part in one way or another, from housing war resisters, to fundraising for their legal costs, to lobbying their MP's, to showing films."

"It's nourished by all of those networks that came about during the Vietnam War, and during the opposition to the Iraq war," she explained. "So there's a long trail of relationship building that we were able to rely on."      

Between 1965 and 1975 over 50 thousand American military deserters came to Canada.  Jazz musician Bill King was one of them.
   
He played in Janis Joplin's band and was well on his way to establishing himself when the Vietnam war took over his life. 

King knows first hand what it's like to leave his birth country behind and build a new life in Canada, so he continues to support the modern day war resisters and their plight to stay in Canada.