By Bill Rea
The American military action in Iraq has sparked lots of controversy,
as some argue whether it's justified.
Many students at Robert F. Hall voiced their support for war
resisters Tuesday as they took part in a march around the school.
Roughly 250 took part.
They were joined by Chuck Wiley, originally from Kentucky, who spent
17 years in the U.S. military (most of it in the navy) who left the
forces over problems he had with the way the war was being conducted.
Hall religion teacher Jozef Konyari said the march was an effort to
put Catholic social teaching of participation into practice by
raising awareness of the issue of war resisters trying to stay in Canada.
The kids marched around the school, shouting slogans like "War
resisters Welcome here!" and "Hey-hey, ho-ho The illegal war has
got to go!"
Konyari told the marchers their journey around the school would have
seven stops, in recognition of the seven years the war has been going on.
There were also a number of declarations of why war resisters should
He cited such facts as how the Trudeau government welcomed draft
dodgers and war resisters during the Viet Nam conflict. He said
between 50,000 and 80,000 people (both dodgers and resisters) arrived
in Canada. Konyari also mentioned the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience. As well,
he said the actions of war resisters are consistent with
international law, including the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg
Principles. "Soldiers have not only the right, but the responsibility
to refuse to participate in war crimes," Konyari declared.
He also argued that most Canadians agree that U.S. military personnel
who resist the war should be taken in. He cited resolutions to that
effect that were passed in the House of Commons in 2008 and '09 that
called on the government to start programs to allow resisters and
their families to stay in Canada.
As well, Konyari said allowing them to stay is consistent with
Canadian immigration law, which states those seeking to stay here
should be allowed to remain if they face "undeserved" or
"disproportionate" hardships if they return to their own countries.
He said Wiley could be looking at five years in prison if he's sent home.
He also stated that many soldiers have been experiencing emotional or
psychological problems from their war experiences, such as
post-traumatic stress disorder.
Finally, he said "the war was declared illegal by the United Nations."
Citing statistics from Wikileaks, Konyari said some 109,000 people
have died so far in this war, and about 66,000 of them have been
Wiley, 38, said he was serving on an aircraft carrier that was
deployed in 2006 in support of the operation in Iraq. He had issues
with several of the missions and didn't believe he could continue. He
said he eventually requested a transfer, and learned he was heading
to another ship that was soon to be redeployed to Iraq.
Missions he had trouble with included air strikes to demolish
residential buildings that had been abandoned. The concern of the
authorities was that insurgents might move in and start operating
from them. But he said his problem was no one had checked these
buildings in weeks, so no one knew if innocent people were occupying them.
Other missions he cited involved getting populations moving so
insurgents could be captured. The problem was civilians were pushed
into areas where they could be ambushed.
"It created a lot of dangerous situations that didn't need to
happen," he remarked.
He contacted the GI Rights Hotline, and was told if he wanted to stay
in the U.S., he would either have to obey orders or go to jail. He
came to Canada in February 2007. He is now officially absent without
leave (AWOL), and said if he were to cross the border back to the
States, there would be a federal warrant for his arrest waiting for him.
There have been questions as to how legal the U.S. action in Iraq has
been. Wiley said the American government tried to get the backing of
the United Nations Security council and couldn't. He couldn't say if
Saddam Hussein should have been allowed to stay in power, but he
maintained there were other avenues available that were never tried.
Wiley observed that it's "hard to say" what's next for him.
He said he hopes the Canadian government will create a rule that will
allow war resisters to apply for permanent residence. If that doesn't
happen, he said he might be eventually asked to leave the country.
While he's not married, Wiley said he has a partner living in
Toronto. He is working as a facilities engineer at a private school
in the city.
He added his parents are still living in the States. "I have friends
and family back in the States who I miss," he commented.
He added he hopes the American government will eventually declare an
amnesty for war resisters, as was done in the 1970s for draft
dodgers. "I'm hopeful we'll got to that point eventually, but I
really don't know," he said.
He told the students he was impressed with their involvement in the
issue. He praised them for having heard of something that shouldn't
be happening, and stepping out of line to try and do something about it.
"That, to me, is what heroism is all about," he told them. "Doing
something when you don't have to do it."
Konyari also said about 800 kids signed a petition calling for war
resisters to be allowed to stay in the country, and that will be
going to Dufferin Caledon MP David Tilson.
He added an aim of Tuesday's march was to let students actually see
what happens when people follow through with their consciences.
"They walked away with something valuable, in relation to the theme
of conscience and resistance," he said.