This article originally appeared at the VancouverSun.com
By Dan Fumano
Like much of the rest of the world, Rodney Watson has spent a lot of the last week thinking about the world’s most famous war resister. But Muhammad Ali’s televised memorial service Friday had particular resonance for Watson, who watched it from the room above the First United Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where he has made his home for almost seven years now.
“When I was watching the memorial and people were praising his decision to take a stand against the Vietnam War, I got tears in my eyes, because I felt like I’m a part of something bigger than myself,” said Watson, an American veteran and a resister of the Iraq War.
A new Insights West poll released this week shows a majority of Canadians support the idea of making Iraq War resisters like Watson permanent residents of their adopted country.
Watson, 38, said he appreciates the widespread support of “the good and conscientious citizens of Canada” evidenced in the poll results, and he hopes the federal government will notice and take action for himself and 14 other Iraq War resisters in Canada.
“For those same ones shedding crocodile tears and praising Muhammad Ali, who have the power to actually do something, I have to say, ‘What about us?’ ” said Watson, who served in Mosul, Iraq, in 2005 and ’06. He left the U.S. for Canada in 2006, to avoid another deployment to Iraq, and sought sanctuary in the First United Church. The Canadian government ordered him deported in 2009.
“How can you honour Ali’s legacy and deny Iraq war resisters who resist an unjust and immoral war?” Watson asked Sunday.
A poll released this week from Insights West found that 63 per cent of Canadians agree that 15 “U.S. soldiers who fled to Canada after refusing to take part in the Iraq War” should be able to become permanent residents of Canada, and support was highest in B.C., with 74 per cent.
Watson’s supporters are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to live up to his past statements.
Trudeau highlighted the issue last summer while campaigning, criticizing then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for “lacking compassion and lacking understanding” when it came to the issue of American war-dodgers in Canada and stating he supported allowing them to stay, The Canadian Press reported.
Watson noted that Trudeau, who praised Ali after his death, writing on Twitter that the boxer “stood firm in his beliefs,” has an opportunity now to pay tribute to the champ in a way more meaningful than words.
Watson noted that American war -dodgers and deserters were widely welcomed to Canada during the government of Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau. The current PM, Watson said, “has the opportunity right now to honour his father’s legacy and Ali’s legacy by allowing Iraq War resisters to live here.”
Ken Marciniec, a spokesman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, compared the 63 per cent of Canadians who support the war resisters with the 39.5 per cent of the popular vote that won a majority government for the Liberals in the October 2015 election.
Marciniec hopes the Liberals will break from the previous Tory government’s approach to the war resisters and find a peaceful resolution to their cases, he said, adding: “It’s time to end Stephen Harper’s vendetta against conscientious objectors.”
Jenny Kwan visited Watson at the church within days of being elected MP for Vancouver East, where the church is located. Kwan, also the federal NDP’s critic for Immigration and the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, where Watson now lives, said Sunday: “He is a lovely man, in a dire situation, coming up seven years now and we need the government to take action.”