FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Letter to Minister Kenney Marks International Conscientious Objectors Day
Tuesday May 15, 2012
Dear Minister Kenney,
Today is International Conscientious Objectors Day. On this occasion, the Commission on Justice and Peace of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has written The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P., Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, to express its support for the American conscientious objectors to the war in Iraq (commonly called the “war resisters”) who have sought refuge in Canada.
Several member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches have provided care and support for the war resisters since January 2004 when the first US war resisters came to Canada. More than eight years on, however, the Commission’s concern continues to deepen as this matter remains unresolved, leaving the US war resisters and their families, now well-established in Canada and contributing to their local communities, in limbo.
On July 22, 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Canada sent a directive (Operational Bulletin 202)to all immigration officers in Canada, focusing on the processing of military deserters who claim refugee status in Canada. The first paragraph of the directive implies that military deserters from other countries who are seeking refugee protection in Canada may also be serious criminals and therefore inadmissible to Canada, as desertion is a serious crime in some countries. When this effort to discourage military personnel prevents them from exercising conscientious objection rights guaranteed in the UN Handbook for Refugees then this is not in accord with
respect to Canada’s adherence to the norms of universal human rights.
Conscientious objection to military service, whether by draft resisters or deserters, is a widely recognized ground for granting refugee protection, both in Canada and internationally. As churches, rights of conscience and religion hold a particular significance for us as we seek to encourage people to live faithful lives. We are of the opinion that when they have followed their conscience in the decision they made to refuse to serve in war and to come to Canada then their circumstances warrant humanitarian and compassionate relief. Their beliefs are protected under domestic and international law, and facilitating their punishmen t by returning them to the United States, in our opinion, is regrettable (a backgrounder on theological and legal arguments in favour of conscientious objection is appended). We ask the Government of Canada to either allow theUS war resisters to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds or to create a mechanism, perhaps a revision of Bill C-440 that would enable them to apply for status from within Canada.
We look forward to your response and would welcome an opportunity to meet regarding this concern.
Chair, Commission on Justice and Peace of the Canadian Council of Churches
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Jinny Sims, Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Critic (NDP)
Kevin Lamoureux, Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Critic (Liberal Party)
André Bellavance, Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Critic (Bloc Québécois)