War Resisters Conference Report Back Looking Back, Moving Forward: War Resisters in North America

By: Luke Stewart

Conference Poster

The conference Looking Back, Moving Forward: War Resisters in North America took place at Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, Ontario, on Friday September 23 and Saturday September 24, 2011. The gathering addressed the plight of American war resisters who fled to Canada from 2004 to the present by providing a historical context for the roots of war resistance in North America. The conference also demanded action on the part of the Government of Canada to respect immigration and refugee law in Canada by rescinding Operational Bulletin 202 and to grant sanctuary to all American war resisters who fled to Canada during the “war on terror”. “This is of more than historical interest,” said Tom Riley, a Vietnam War resister and activist in the War Resisters Support Campaign. “It’s about learning from the past so we can support resistance today and in the future.”

The purpose of the conference was to offer public education about an aspect of North American history – cross-border migration during times of conflict and war – that is increasingly under attack in Canadian political circles in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The conference deconstructed the role of citizenship, civil disobedience, and conscientious objection during times of war. Moreover, we tried to illuminate the relationship between the Canadian and the United States governments during times of war and what this means for the twenty-first century.

We did this from the vantage point of those who have resisted wars: the veterans, the draft resisters, the family members of resisters, and support campaigners.  There have been other gatherings in 2006 and 2010 and we wanted to keep the cross-border dialogue going. Politicians and pundits try to score points with the public by making fancy statements of indignation towards these, in Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney’s own words, “bogus refugees”.

War Resisters June 2008. Photo: WRSC

We provided a space for war resisters to tell their own stories and for Iraq war resisters a chance to tell the public what information the Immigration and Refugee Board refused to hear up until very recently with consecutive appeals court victories for Dean Walcott and Chris Vassey.

Since January 2004 and the arrival of Jeremy Hinzman – who came to Canada as a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq – the War Resisters Support Campaign has supported hundreds of American war resisters and has mobilized public opinion to support these war resisters (64 percent in 2008, Angus Reid) who refused to participate in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. “So long as they have wars, there are going to be war resisters,” said Frank Showler, a conscientious objector to the Second World War. “That is the continued importance of this advocacy work.”

Panel Discussions

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The conference featured a variety of speakers – such as Iraq War veterans, war resisters from World War Two to the ‘war on ‘terror’, lawyers, human rights activists, and academics– on five panel discussions. There were also information booths, letter writing campaigns, and a continued determination to see the granting of some kind of sanctuary to American war resisters.

Friday 23 September 2011

Resisting Wars from WWII to ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’

The first panel discussion – “Resisting Wars from WWII to ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’” featured Frank Showler, conscientious objector during World War Two; Lee Zaslofsky, military deserter from the Vietnam War; Bruce Beyer,  draft resister and member of the Buffalo Nine; Carl Mirra, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm conscientious objector; and Jamine Aponte, war resister from Operation Iraq Freedom. The panel was moderated by Luke Stewart of Historians Against the War.

This panel discussion was design in order to demonstrate that there is a history of resisting war in both Canada and the United States.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Veteran Testimony

L-R: Michelle Robidoux, Chuck Wiley, Dean Walcott, Kim Rivera. Photo: Alex Lisman

This panel featured veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including: Chuck Wiley, Dean Walcott, and Kimberly Rivera. By offering firsthand accounts by the war resisters themselves, we can gain a better understanding of how to stop future wars by educating the public about the importance of soldiers’ experiences and their decisions to stop participating in particular wars. Listening to the soldiers’ stories highlights the importance of solidarity work and building support structures. The panel was moderated by Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

War Crimes and the Law of Conscientious Objection:
A North American Context

L-R: Lee Zaslofsky, Staughton Lynd, Michael Mandel, Jeremy Hinzman. Photo: James Swarts

This panel featured Staughton Lynd, radical historian and lawyer from the United States; Jeremy Hinzman, conscientious objector from Operation Iraqi Freedom and first war resister to come to Canada in January 2004; and Michael Mandel, international lawyer and professor at Osgoode Hall law school at York Unviersity. The panel discusses the law of conscientious objection in the United States and how Canada has shifted from a war resister haven during the Vietnam War to a war resister prosecutor in the fabled “war on terror”. The panel was moderated by Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

War Resistance and Canadian Immigration and Refugee Policy

L-R: Patricia Molloy, Alyssa Manning, Gloria Nafzinger, S.K. Hussan. Photo: James Swarts

This panel featured Alyssa Manning, war resister lawyer from Parkdale Community Legal Services; Gloria Nafzinger, refugee coordinator with Amnesty International – Canada; and S.K. Hussan from No One Is Illegal – Toronto.  The panel discusses the implications of not just war resisters from the United States, but those seeking refuge from wars and the 21st century’s humanitarian struggles. This panel discussed government policy, the courts, deportation, and Canada’s downward slide in international humanitarian efforts and what we can do about it. The panel was moderated by Patricia Molloy of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Building  a North American Antiwar Movement

Photo: James Swarts

The final panel discussion featured Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign and Sid Lacombe of the Canadian Peace Alliance (speakers were unfortunately unable to make it from Afghans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out). The panel discussed the history of the Canadian antiwar movement and the cross-border relationships with United States peace groups and how to move forward in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The panel was moderated by Jesse McLaren of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

The gathering was able to raise $1422.02 for the War Resisters Support Campaign which will go towards continued legal support as well as to other forms of support the Campaign is able to provide.

The gathering was endorsed by: the War Resisters Support Campaign, Historians Against the War, Christian Peacemaker Teams – Canada, the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), the Canadian Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, activehistory.ca, the Canadian Peace Alliance, the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, Afghans for Peace, Conscience Canada, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, WPIRG, OPIRG-Toronto, Amnesty International, Military Families Speak Out, and OPIRG-York.

Luke Stewart is a member of Historians Against the War and is a Ph.D. Candidate in history at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Stewart was the main organizer of the conference.

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