Every year I make a point of attending at least one of the many sessions offered at the Vancouver International Readers' and Writers' Festival. Despite the rains, I headed into the city and was well-rewarded for my efforts with a stimulating session featuring several interesting writers.
But looking back, a much more important part of the day was a side trip I took to the core of the Downtown East Side. I went to the First United Church, the place where U.S. war resister Rodney Watson has taken sanctuary in hopes of not being deported and likely imprisoned in America.
We spoke for a little while, and he confirmed that when he'd joined the U.S. military, it had been with the understanding that he'd serve as a cook. When that turned out to not be the case -- and when they tried to extend his contract and send him for a second tour of duty to Iraq, he deserted and came to Vancouver.
I've written to our government before, recommending compassion for war resisters. My local MP, to give him credit, has at least replied -- but with legalese gobbledygoop as excuses -- despite the fact that the very Parliament (of which he's a member) has passed two previous motions suggesting that war resisters once again (as in Vietnam days) be permitted entry. Currently, there is a private member's bill even more specific to this issue.
There's a twist to all of this -- one that only dawned on me as I was getting off the bus near the church. Today is the anniversary of my receiving my own Canadian citizenship. Heck, they let me stay, and the fact of that made me feel both embarrassed and ashamed about Rodney's predicament.
I'm very glad I got to spend a bit of time with Rodney -- particularly on such a significant day. I had tears in my eyes when he hugged me. He was awaiting a call from Ron Kovic, the Vietnam vet who wrote Born on the 4th of July. All I can hope is that Kovic will have some good ideas to help Rodney Watson and the rest of the war resisters be heard.