Let U.S. deserters stay, Canadian House says

Tue Jun 3, 2008 4:58pm EDT
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers who have deserted the military because of the war in Iraq should be allowed to stay permanently in Canada, the House of Commons voted in a nonbinding motion on Tuesday.

The three opposition parties, which together hold a majority of seats in the House, backed a motion that said the government should allow conscientious objectors and their families "who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations" to stay in Canada.

Canada was a haven for tens of thousands of draft dodgers during the Vietnam War and has attracted an estimated 175 to 200 Americans who are resisting the Iraq conflict.

"I think Canada has always been a place which has welcomed those who seek peace and seek freedom," Bob Rae, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Liberal Party, told reporters outside the Commons after the vote.

The minority Conservative government opposes the idea, arguing that, unlike during the Vietnam War, the current U.S. military is composed of volunteers, and also that Washington allows people to apply for conscientious objector status.

"People do not join with their eyes closed. If they do, then they have their own problems," Conservative Member of Parliament Laurie Hawn, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Air Force, said during debate on the motion.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused last November to hear appeals of two U.S. deserters whose applications for refugee status had been turned down by immigration authorities.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson)