Given that Bill C-440, which would have given safe haven for war resisters in Canada, failed Second Reading last night by a mere seven votes, one could imagine that the bill's sponsor, Liberal Gerard Kennedy, would be pretty upset. A couple of us spoke to Kennedy after Question Period today, and this is what he told us:
"I’m looking for other ways to protect the war resisters. Unfortunately we had a wave of people concerned about some of the specific things that a bill would have done, that it would have been perceived as undermining military discipline, those kinds of things. I think that still there is – and if you look at it from one angle, it’s the wrong way to look at this challenge to Canadians. It’s about citizenship, it’s a little bit to do with military, but it’s really about our ability to define who gets to join our country. The case, all told, for war resisters is one that Canadians are very sympathetic to, and it was hard to find the language in a bill that would find its way through, but that does not mean that they should feel there is a lack of welcome here altogether. So my commitment to them is to try and work to find ways and I’m hoping that is the attitude that they will take on. Parliament is a little bit imperfect that way. Private Members’ Bills don’t allow us to elaborate that much, to engage as many people, and it shouldn’t be that the kind of happenstance, that the last-minute concern on the part of people that was hard to meet, would stand in the way of the overall thrust.
"People may recall, when we allowed the people from Vietnam [War] here, Mr. Trudeau simply told the immigration minister at the time, Mr. MacEachen, not to ask the question. All across the border, in immigration offices, there were people not asking the question ‘do you have an obligation to military service of another country,’ and that’s how we dealt with it. That may be an inelegant answer here, and obviously the onus really should be – and where Canadians hear this and wonder what happened in Parliament, what they should be thinking of is that the minister should be exercising his discretion. What we were forced to do is step into the shoes of the Minister of Immigration, and that’s an awkward thing to do, because for one group of people, we’re changing the law, and that caused some people to back away. But there is a Minister of Immigration, and despite the façade that the government puts up, they are not either immune to public input or able to ignore it ad infinitum. People I hope will understand is that’s what we should be asking for – the Minister to deal with these people on compassionate grounds. They’ve been here five and six years, they’re working, they’re people who deserve to be in Canadian society, and that power doesn’t need a bill. It just needs enough pressure to make the Minister understand that a broad sweep of Canadians wants to see it happen. Some version of that is where I’ll be applying myself, and I would certainly encourage people out there to not see this as any kind of judgement on the overall bona fides, just the fact that changing a very specific law caused some people to have cold feet."