Anti-war letters mailed to Quebec soldiers

Updated Mon. Jun. 11 2007 4:52 PM ET, Canadian Press

MONTREAL -- Some of the Quebec soldiers facing deployment to Afghanistan later this year will be waking up this week to find opposition to the war right on their doorsteps.

The first of about 3,000 letters mailed by antiwar protesters are expected to start showing up in neighbourhoods around the military base in Valcartier, Que., home to the Royal 22nd Regiment.

More than 2,000 Van Doos, as they're known, are scheduled to depart for Afghanistan beginning in August.

"You can refuse to participate in this war,'' says the missive, mailed last week by four Quebec-based antiwar groups.

"Your deployment in Afghanistan means complicity with the civilian deaths and other activities... that are tantamount to war crimes.''

It cites the potential for the torture of prisoners transferred by Canadian troops to their Afghan counterparts.

The letter blames media for marginalizing the "Afghani resistance'' to foreign occupation as the work of the Taliban, and tells soldiers they will become "cannon fodder'' in the war-torn region.

The 2,000-odd soldiers from Valcartier who head to Kandahar will join a small contingent who have been there since December.

Capt. Mathieu Dufour, spokesman for the base, said Monday he hadn't heard from anyone who had received a letter.

Aside from that, Dufour said, the military will not be comment any further on what he called a "political movement.''

"They can do whatever they think they have to do,'' he said. "This is a democracy.''

As the Canadian death toll in Afghanistan has grown, so has debate about the war.

A Decima Research poll released exclusively to The Canadian Press on Monday found 67 per cent of Canadians surveyed wanted the mission to end as scheduled in 2009, rather than be extended.

In Quebec, where opposition has consistently been the highest, 72 per cent said Canada should withdraw troops by February 2009.

Sophie Schoen, a spokeswoman for the antiwar groups, said the letters are a direct appeal to soldiers, who she said are increasingly questioning Canada's role in Afghanistan.

"What we're saying is if you're ready to not go, we're ready to support you in that and to fight with you,'' Schoen said.

The groups have set up a phone line and an e-mail address for soldiers disillusioned with the war.

War objectors have become a regular occurrence in the United States, where, according to a report published Monday, 11,000 soldiers have gone absent without leave since the start of the Iraq war.

In Canada, the Department of National Defence said that is not the case.

"As far as we know we have had zero people refuse to go (to Afghanistan), we have had zero deserters,'' said Cmdr. Denise LaViolette.

Two years ago, a military reservist said he was threatened with court martial and jail time for refusing to participate in a training exercise. Francisco Juarez said the training would eventually have seen him in Afghanistan.

In the end, Juarez, a former navy seaman who transferred to the reserves, was fined $500 and discharged without honour.

Reservists, like Juarez, have to volunteer to go to Afghanistan but deployment orders are mandatory for full-time members of the military.

LaViolette said soldiers have been excused from service overseas for medical or personal reasons.

But "simply not wanting to deploy is not a reason,'' she said.

Canada currently has 2,500 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. Since the war began in 2002, approximately 14,900 troops have served.

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