(16 March 2006) -- 'Perhaps the Harper government is afraid that good old fashioned Canadian common sense will once again show itself right about Afghanistan as it was about Iraq.'
This past week we have seen extensive news coverage of the visit to Afghanistan by Prime Minister Harper and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Hillier. These intensely scripted events are obvious attempts to generate public support for continued Canadian involvement in a conflict that has become distinctly unpopular with the citizens of this country.
Repeatedly we are told that Canadians are not quitters, that waning public support jeopardizes the safety of our troops, that our troops are committed troops and we must stay the course. We hear a host of other sound bites as well, all trying to deny the Canadian people what they most want - which is a little democracy.
The truth is that Canadian forces are now involved in a war which was never debated or voted upon by the House of Commons. I absolutely concur with those who believe that before we further risk the lives of our men and women in uniform this entire endeavour must be subjected to public scrutiny. Failure to do so debases our democracy. I also think it sells short the capacity of Canadians to make informed decisions on such matters.
I can't help but compare the current situation with the intense public debate that surrounded the build up to the US-led war on Iraq. All the more so as March 19th marks the third anniversary of the commencement of the U.S.-led war on Iraq (see Canadian Peace Alliance website for events marking the anniversary). When the war began, Canada decided not to take an active role. Canadians supported that decision and their judgment has been vindicated.
War and occupation are illegal
It has now been well established that the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the pretense for the war, did not exist. Furthermore, the evidence cited to prove the existence of WMDs was false. Whether this was a case of misinterpretation of facts or outright falsehoods by the Bush and Blair administrations is a matter of debate.
However, it is pretty clear that the war, and occupation, are illegal under international law. Neither has been sanctioned by the United Nations and these actions remain unsupported by the overwhelming majority of the world's governments.
While there is no disagreement that the former Iraqi regime was brutal and dictatorial, the war has clearly made things worse for many of Iraq's people. Many intelligence experts believe that the ongoing conflict is increasing the global threat of terrorism, not reducing it. And it is difficult to see any end in the near future.
There is little doubt in my mind that had Stephen Harper been Prime Minister three years ago, Canada would now have troops in Iraq. He loudly condemned the Chrétien government for not participating in the war. He now claims that his support for the war was based on the flawed information provided by the U.S. and U.K. governments - basically admitting he was wrong. But, as we know, most Canadians were skeptical of the Bush/Blair argument for war from the beginning.
Perhaps the Harper government is afraid that good old fashioned Canadian common sense will once again show itself right about Afghanistan as it was about Iraq. I worry that the new Prime Minister's desire to build a closer relationship with the George Bush government is taking precedence over the concerns of Canadians.
NUPGE's clear position
The National Union was among the many organizations that spoke out in opposition to the war in Iraq. With protests being planned to commemorate the third anniversary of the war, I look back on what we said as a union at the outset and I believe our assessment remains as valid today as it was then.
We have no qualms about standing firmly behind the position we took then and standing by it in an open and public debate. In regard to Afghanistan the question to be asked is: Will Prime Minister Harper allow that debate to take place?
A footnote concerning war resisters
I want to bring to your attention the situation of U.S. war resisters in Canada.
Two of these men, Jeremy Hinzman, 27, and Brandon Hughey, 20, have taken a deeply felt moral position against fighting in the Iraq war. These two young men, whose cases for asylum are before a Federal Court, faced a decision that many of us will never have to confront. They have, in my opinion, demonstrated exemplary courage in choosing to leave family and friends behind and come to Canada rather than fight.
Their biggest mistake, it seems, was being born into the American working class - and wanting to pursue the American dream for themselves. The U.S. army offers one of the few avenues for many American youth to go to college. Promised an opportunity to improve their lot in life, they signed up. What they did not foresee was being made pawns in an illegal war.
In the past, Canada has provided a refuge for U.S. citizens who decide not to support their nation's military follies overseas. Another Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, took a clear stand in support of a generation of U.S. war resisters during the Vietnam era.
The statement Trudeau made at the time remains just as valid today: "Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war ... have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism."
The National Union absolutely agrees and joins the demand for the federal government to take whatever steps are necessary to allow US war resisters to stay in Canada.