TORONTO — The Liberal government is reviewing Canada's stance on American war dodgers who have sought refuge in this country rather than fight in Iraq, Prime Minister Trudeau said Friday.
Trudeau, however, gave no commitments that Ottawa might smooth the path to permanent residency for the conscientious objectors, some of whom have been forced to return to the U.S. to face prison terms, but said the issue was a live one.
"It's one that we are looking into actively as a government," Trudeau said after a transit-funding announcement in Toronto.
He did not elaborate.
Outside the transit yard where Trudeau was speaking, a handful of protesters from the War Resisters Support Campaign quietly held up a banner and signs calling on the government to let them stay.
Last summer, a campaigning Trudeau criticized the Conservative government under prime minister Stephen Harper for acting in a way he called "lacking compassion and lacking understanding" when it came to the American soldiers.
"I am supportive of the principle of allowing conscientious objectors to stay," Trudeau said at the time.
He called it "problematic" and "disappointing" and unworthy of Canada that Conservative MPs had cheered in the Commons in 2012 amid word that one of the Americans, a mother of four, had been arrested after deportation to the U.S., where she was later court-martialled and gave birth in prison.
"I am committed...to restoring our sense of compassion and openness and a place that is a safe haven for people to come here."
However, little appears to have happened since the Liberals took office last fall.
In an email to The Canadian Press last month, a spokesman for Immigration Minister John McCallum said he had "no indication that a decision was made or is about to be made" on the issue.
Starting a decade ago, scores of American military personnel who objected to the war in Iraq sought refuge in Canada. They argued the military effort had not been sanctioned by the United Nations and was illegal. Some have been fighting for years to obtain regular status while the government has sought to deport them.
The Harper government, in particular, took a hard line on their presence, at one point calling them deserters and "bogus refugee claimants" and directing immigration officials to ensure they were returned to the U.S.
About 15 of the soldiers are estimated to be still caught up in their fight to gain status in Canada, according to the resisters campaign
Supporters say it is time the Trudeau government acted, noting it was his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who welcomed many American soldiers who came to Canada rather than fight in the Vietnam War.