Iraq war resister Rodney Watson still awaits fate in Canada
Rodney Watson recently marked the second anniversary of his move to a one-bedroom apartment in the First United Church on East Hastings Street.
As a former U.S. soldier and a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq, Watson took sanctuary in the building after Canadian immigration authorities ordered that he be deported in September 2009.
Since then, he has made a life in the Downtown Eastside church with his wife, Natasha, and their two-year-old son, Jordan, as he awaits word on his application to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“It’s been taken to a higher court, so I’m hoping that something will transpire,” he told the Georgia Straight in an interview at the church.
In the meantime, Watson often recalls his experiences in Iraq, where he served from 2005 to 2006. While he had signed up to be a cook, once he was deployed he was assigned to search civilian vehicles for explosives and weapons. Some of the things he witnessed, he said, included racism and beatings of Iraqi civilians.
One of his clearest memories is of an Iraqi civilian with a gunshot wound, who was taken by emergency vehicle to a U.S. military base for medical help. Watson pleaded by radio to send help for the man, but the requests were denied, and he watched the man die.
“I sat there for almost two hours with this Iraqi civilian bleeding,” Watson recalled. “He bled out, he gasped for his last breath, and he was gone. And the only thing I could think of right when I saw that was of soldiers handing out Beanie Babies and doing things for the children, talking about winning the hearts and minds of the people, and here I am in Iraq, witnessing firsthand the nonsense that no one talks about…the nonsense that our government does not want the public to see.”
Watson, who will likely face desertion charges if he returns to the States, is among an estimated 40 Iraq war resisters who are fighting legal battles to stay in Canada.
Libby Davies, the NDP MP for Vancouver East, noted the previous Parliament passed two motions in favour of stopping the deportation of war resisters.
“The expression of parliamentarians by majority in the last Parliament was very strong in favour of welcoming war resisters as we had during the Vietnam era, but we have a Conservative government that is blinded by politics on this,” Davies said in a phone interview with the Straight.
On Thanksgiving (October 10), Davies will host a turkey dinner at the church and urge guests to write letters to the federal immigration minister in support of Watson’s call for permanent residence in Canada.
“The whole idea is to let Rodney know that he’s not alone, that he has support,” Davies said.
For Watson, one of the greatest challenges has been his inability to leave First United during the last two years.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and this has been one of the hardest things I’ve been through, being stuck in these walls,” he said. “The hardest thing about being stuck here is waving to my wife and son…every time they go to the store, or to family dinners, outings, to the park…the hardest part for me is saying good-bye.”
Yet Watson remains optimistic that he will eventually be allowed to leave the church and return to a normal life with his Canadian family.
“I made a home here, and I would love for Canadians to open their arms to me and my family and allow me to stay here,” he said.