Friday, November 16, 2007

Canada's Supreme Court Closes the Door to U.S. War Resisters

And it's one, two three, what are we fighting for?/Don't ask me I don't give a damn/Next stop is Vietnam/And it's five, six, seven, open up the Pearly gates/There ain't no time to wonder why../Whoopie we're all gonna die.

......

I have a bit of a romantic attachment to the sixties. That may be because I was too young to really participate in them.

I took in that era as a kid, watching it unfold with Walter Cronkite safely sandwiched in between Batman and Flintstone reruns.

Nonetheless, turning 13 as I did in 1972, my new-found appreciation for hippie music alligned me politically, possibly for life, with the icons of the anti-war movement of the time - Dylan, CSNY, Joni et al.

I knew the songs. I knew what they meant.

I wasn't at Woodstock. But I sure remember Yasgur's farm.

At that age, I also listened to a lot of AM radio, late at night in bed.

I had this little, battery-run transistor radio that I silenced as-required under my pillow, while I listened to the old Jerry Williams call-in show on Boston's fabled WBZ Radio. I heard the war debate that way, every night in real time.

At 13, I came down squarely on Jerry's side - the war was wrong and needed to end.

(WBZ, as an aside, used to carry the Boston Bruin games. Jerry came on at 11, after hockey. I could only get reception from far-away Beantown later in the night, never during the day - I never really did understand the physics behind that...)

So, anyway, as I read Thursday that Canada's Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by two contemporary American war resisters from a decision that they do not qualify for Canadian refugee protection, I must say on a purely visceral, sorta Dylanesque level, I was at first disappointed.

Alongside those templated sounds of Bob and Neil and Joni and Jerry within, I suppose I also came to project a bit of a political halo onto the people that used to be called "draft dodgers."

I thought they were right about Viet Nam. I liked their music.

And in the recesses of the archetypal mind, I think I pictured them all carrying acoustic guitars and singing protest songs, or something...

Back to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision.

CTV reports on it as follows:

Canada's top court said Thursday it will not hear the appeals of two American military deserters who fled north of the border seeking refugee status.

Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to overthrow a 2005 Immigration and Refugee Board ruling that stated there was no well-founded fear of persecution should the they return to the United States.

Both deserters came to Canada in 2004 after learning they were to be deployed to Iraq.

The Supreme Court panel, composed of three judges, gave no reason for the refusal, which is common practice for the high court.

If returned to the U.S., both men will face a court marshal and will be sent to prison for up to five years if convicted.

Hinzman, 28, fled to Canada with his wife and son after learning his Airborne Division unit was deployed to fight in a war he considered "illegal and immoral."

Notwithstanding my Woodstockian predispositions on this issue, after reflection I am in full agreement with the Court's ruling.

That tells me a few things.

The sixties are over.

And even without the benefit of written reasons, I have no doubt as to the wisdom of the Supreme Court of Canada on this one. In the very difficult job of balancing competing interests, our Judges consistently get it right.

(Unlike its American cousin, our Supreme Court of Canada has never been deeply politicized by our politicians or by its own actions. The U.S. Supreme Court was reasonably similar in this respect... before Bush v. Gore, a decision that exposed the partisan fault-lines of the Court and blemished that institution's reputation, perhaps for generations to come.)

Thursday's Supreme Court of Canada's decision does illustrate one fault-line that does not exist between Canada and our American neighbours.

Had our Supreme Court gone in a different direction, their decision would effectively have created a northern haven for U.S. war resisters, representing a virtual disavowal by our judiciary of America's rule of law in a circumstance that is simply not, by definition, about imminent life and death concerns.

(In such cases, we reserve all rights).

Canadians overwhelmingly oppose the American mission in Iraq.

We have from day one.

But as a nation, our opposition to the war simply does not go so far as to create a willingness to vest political and legal legitimacy in those who desert the American military - on conscientious or other grounds.

Canada has profound respect for America's legal system, warts and all. We respect America's legal autonomy and have deference for its judicial processes.

I understand that for many war resisters, a ticket to Iraq (or Iran, or wherever the U.S. may go next) may well represent a potential death sentence. There are good, ethical, defensible grounds for any individual to object to serving in this war, most of which I am sympathetic to.

I also understand that deportation to America may well predict severe legal consequences ahead, and that there are indeed reasons to seek safe harbour elsewhere.

Those severe legal consequences, however, do not as I understand it, include waterboarding. If they did, my view would be completely different. As, I am sure, would the Supreme Court of Canada's.

So therefore, as much as my romantic notions about the sixties inspired a momentary temptation to roll out the welcome mat and say, "stay here, friend," I must confess, on balance, that I have reached a different conclusion.

I see it like this:

You must go home

and fix your country.

Sorry.

(And don't worry, one day you, too, may grow up to be President)

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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