The House of Commons has voted, in a non-binding resolution, to give asylum to US deserters who object to the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, the government has not agreed to follow this resolution. Conservative MPs have given two reasons for distinguishing the present situation from that of the Vietnam War, when many American war resisters came to Canada.
The first reason is that the US military recognizes conscientious objectors. The problem here is that the US only considers a person to be a conscientious objector if he or she is an absolute pacifist. A soldier who objects to the war in Iraq but is not opposed to all wars is not eligible for conscientious objector status.
The second reason is that US troops are all volunteers and that they knew what they were getting into when they enlisted. It is true that they are volunteers, but not that they knew what they were getting into. The Bush Administration justified the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was in league with Al Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction. Both of these grounds were spurious. The result is that soldiers who enlisted thinking that they would be defending the United States and fighting terrorism were sent to war for entirely different purposes. Furthermore, the US’s incompetent conduct of the war has put soldiers at risk in ways that they could not have expected. Finally, the US has engaged in war crimes, in which some soldiers naturally do not wish to be complicit.
The deserters who seek asylum in Canada now do so for reasons much like those that motivated the war resisters of the Vietnam era, and like them, they do not have the option of conscientious objection. Just as Canada did the right thing during the Vietnam War and gave asylum to US war resisters, so we should do so again.