Iraq war resister Rodney Watson stuck in limbo for the holidays
In many ways, the Watsons will celebrate a typical Christmas this year. They have a tree with gifts beneath it, some last-minute wrapping to take care of, and plans to cook a turkey dinner on Christmas Day.
But Rodney Watson, his wife, Natasha, and their son, Jordan, are celebrating the holidays in an unlikely setting for a young family: the Downtown Eastside’s First United Church.
When the Georgia Straight paid a morning visit on December 20, the church’s 200 beds for the homeless were full and its hallways congested with people preparing for the day.
The week before, Jordan celebrated his second birthday there, taking a victory lap around the church on his brand-new Toy Story quad. As happy as the occasion was, Watson said in a meeting room upstairs, there’s nothing he wants more than to take his son to the park. “That’s the hardest part about not being able to go anywhere.”
Taking sanctuary, the Watsons have lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the church since Canadian immigration authorities ordered that Watson be deported in September 2009. As a former U.S. soldier and conscientious objector to the war in Iraq, Watson likely faces charges of desertion in his country. He is one of an estimated 40 such individuals fighting legal battles to remain in Canada.
Parliament has twice passed nonbinding motions to stop the deportation of war resisters, but the Conservative government has ignored those measures. On September 29, a private member’s bill, C-440, failed to pass second reading in the House of Commons.
“It was quite shocking because there has been a movement all across Canada for the war resisters,” Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East, said by phone from Ottawa. “People like Rodney, he is doing his best to do the right thing and we should be supporting him.”
Davies, who has visited Watson several times, emphasized that the 32-year-old man has a Canadian wife and child, and has proven himself a benefit to the community.
Rev. Ric Matthews, executive minister for the First United Church, told the Straight the same thing.
“He has a natural sensitivity to issues around justice and equality and peace,” Matthews said. “His role is very much a healing one.”
Watson walked around the First United Church at ease, barely passing anybody without making a joke or some friendly gesture.
He explained that his objections to the war in Iraq—where he served from 2005 to 2006—trace back to his childhood.
“I remember when I was five years old, going into the living room,” he began. Watson’s family had just moved into a new neighbourhood in Kansas City. One night, when his father was at work and Watson was playing at home with his brothers and sisters, their neighbours let the family know what they thought of the move.
“I felt glass coming past my face and bricks coming through the window,” Watson recounted. “My brother got hit and we all started running, and my mom grabbed us all up and all I could hear was, ”˜Get out, nigger.’ ”
A little more than 20 years later, Watson said, he saw the same sort of thing going on in Iraq—except this time, he was on the side of the brick throwers.
“About the third month into my deployment, that’s when I started seeing this vicious racism,” he explained, telling stories of innocent Iraqis being beaten by American soldiers who had had a bad day.
Turning to the present, Watson emphasized that it is because of his moral objections to the war that he is now faced with losing his family. “I love them with my heart and my soul, and that would tear me apart,” he said.
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