Rodney Watson, war resister. Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Supporters renew bid to free war resister
By Pieta Woolley
American war resister Rodney Watson — who has lived in sanctuary at Vancouver’s First United Church for seven years — may soon walk free. Watson served a year in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2005 and 2006. When he was recalled for another tour, he fled to Canada, citing disillusionment with the justification for the war and repulsion at the senseless killing. He started living at the church in 2009.
This past August, an unidentified Canadian offered to pay a bond to the Canadian Border Services Agency that would secure Watson’s release. This would free him to parent his Canadian-born son, now 6, while the government decides what to do about the roughly 25 war resisters claiming refugee status and living in legal limbo in Canada. At press time, the CBSA hadn’t made a decision about granting the bond.
This hasn’t been tried before; it was proposed by Watson’s legal counsel. It’s the same procedure that allows prisoners awaiting trial to leave jail.
Additional action seems imminent. Since she was elected in October 2015, Vancouver MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has lobbied the Liberal government on Watson’s behalf.
“I’m hopeful,” she says, referring to the Liberal promise to change the former Conservative government’s Operational Bulletin 202, which in 2010 made military deserters ineligible for refugee status. “This is one action they promised. If they’re true to their word they need to act. . . . I don’t understand why there’s such a delay.” The Supreme Court of Canada had given the federal government until last month to decide whether or not it plans to continue deportation for U.S. war resisters.
In the meantime, the Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, has intervened in several refugee cases, allowing individuals to stay in Canada. None were American war resisters.
Sheima Benembarek was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Morocco and moved to Canada in 2005. In 2015, she relocated to Toronto. At first, the city seemed so much bigger, impersonal — and even threatening — until a fateful encounter in the subway one day.
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