While the war in Iraq may officially be drawing to a close, former U.S. soldier Rodney Watson's battle to stay in Canada continues from a small one-bedroom suite within the First United Church in Vancouver.
The 32-year-old war resister marked his one-year anniversary of sanctuary by making a public appeal to the public and Canadian government for all Iraqi war resisters.
"We are not criminals. We are taking a stand for peace and love. What you have here are people who have taken a stand against the government for a war that was deemed wrong," he said.
Watson said he's awaiting anxiously an coming House of Commons vote on a bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Bill C-440 would allow Watson to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds based on his moral and political objections to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations, and the fact that he was subject to a stop-loss order by the U.S. military. A vote is expected later this month.
Watson said he initially joined the U.S. army in 2004 for financial reasons. He enrolled to be a cook but said he ended up searching vehicles for weapons in a security clearance area. He also said he witnessed racism toward Iraqis by American soldiers.
"I knew going in I was a soldier first. That's not my argument. It's what I saw. I witnessed a lot of racist soldiers and racist contractors." Amid all the violence he began questioning the war's rationale and why, as a soldier, he was not helping citizens of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina struck.
Upon returning from his one-year tour of duty, Watson was informed he would once again be deployed past his three-year contract with the military. Watson decided to leave his home in Kansas City and move to Vancouver in November 2006.
Watson met his wife here and the couple had a son who will soon turn two. He was given a work permit and began carpentry work, installing hardwood floors. Meanwhile, his wife began attending post-secondary school.
"We were living a perfectly normal life, taking care of our son," he said.
But on Sept. 11, 2009, Watson's world was turned upside down when he was ordered to leave Canada. That week he appealed to Rev. Ric Matthews of the First United Church for sanctuary.
"To embrace those resisting war is part of out heritage, the will of the majority in Parliament and the desire of the majority of Canadians. The time in sanctuary will be well worth it if it prevents Rodney from being summarily deported," Matthews said.
Watson claims that if he is deported to the U.S., he would be imprisoned for at least a year, his marriage would fall apart because he wouldn't be able to enter Canada and job prospects with a dishonourable discharge would be slim.
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