[R-G] U.S. soldiers lose guaranteed haven in Canada

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Sun Jul 13 13:36:28 MDT 2008

U.S. soldiers lose guaranteed haven in Canada
By Ian Austen
Sunday, July 13, 2008

TORONTO: James Corey Glass, an apprentice mortician and U.S. Army  
deserter, was keeping an unusually close eye on the text messages  
coming into his cellphone. He was hoping to hear that a court had  
blocked the Canadian government's attempt to send him back to the  
United States.

On Wednesday afternoon, the message came: Glass, 25, could remain in  
Canada while he appealed his removal order by the Canadian Immigration  
Department. It was a welcome reprieve, he said, but well short of a  
guarantee that he and other deserters could make Canada their new home.

The Canadian government's effort to remove Glass contrasts with the  
warm reception given to deserters and draft avoiders from the United  
States during the war in Vietnam. And although the war in Iraq has  
very little support among Canadians, the situation of Glass and others  
who abandoned their military positions provokes a wide range of  
responses. For U.S. soldiers seeking an escape, Canada is no longer a  
guaranteed haven.

"It's quite clear that the current Canadian government does not want  
to annoy the U.S. government on this issue and will not give any  
ground," said Michael Byers, a professor of politics and international  
law at the University of British Columbia.

During the Vietnam War, the Liberal prime minister, Pierre Elliott  
Trudeau, welcomed American deserters and draft dodgers, declaring that  
Canada "should be a refuge from militarism." Americans who arrived  
were generally able to obtain legal immigrant status simply by  
applying at the border, or even after they entered Canada.

But while the current Conservative government of Prime Minister  
Stephen Harper has not backed the Iraq war, it has shown little  
sympathy for American deserters. During a recent parliamentary debate,  
Laurie Hawn, a Conservative from Alberta, asked, "Why do they not  
fight it within their own legal system instead of being faux refugees  
in Canada?"

No American deserter of the Iraq war has been deported by the Canadian  
government, but that is not for lack of effort. The immigration  
authorities have ordered about nine deserters to leave Canada, leading  
to public battles in the courts.

Changes to immigration laws have made it far more difficult for  
deserters to remain in Canada. Deserters wanting at least temporary  
legal status must be declared refugees. But refugees in Canada must  
show that they have, as the government puts it, a "well-founded fear  
of being persecuted" for religious, racial or political reasons.

Alternately, refugees may demonstrate that for them to be returned to  
their home country would put their lives at risk, or would subject  
them to torture or "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment."

As for Glass, he said he was between low-paying factory jobs in  
Indiana when he joined the U.S. National Guard six years ago. But he  
said he had one crucial question for the recruiters before he signed.  
"They told me I'm not going to fight a war on foreign shores," Glass  

Major Nathan Banks, a spokesman for the U.S. Army, said, "recruiters  
would never have made a comment of that sort."

Not long after Glass joined, it became clear that he would not be  
exempt from overseas duty, he said. But he stayed with the Guard and  
was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

Six months into his 18-month tour, Glass, a sergeant, said he was sent  
home on a temporary stress leave. Immediately after returning to the  
United States, he went on the run, living in a tent in various states,  
he said.

Like many of his counterparts in Canada, Glass eventually contacted  
Lee Zaslofsky, who deserted the U.S. Army for Toronto in 1970 and is  
now a national coordinator for the War Resisters Support Campaign,  
which houses and advocates for deserters. As he says he does with all  
callers, Zaslofsky, a naturalized Canadian citizen, told Glass that  
while he would be beyond the reach of the United States military in  
Canada, there were no guarantees he could stay in the country. Glass  
moved anyway.

A big difference between the current round of deserters and those  
during the Vietnam War appears to be scale. No precise data exist, but  
Victor Levant, who wrote "Quiet Complicity: Canadian Involvement in  
the Vietnam War," estimated that about 20,000 Americans came to Canada  
to escape the Vietnam-era draft and 12,000 others in the armed forces  
deserted and entered Canada. Zaslofsky said he believed that no more  
than 200 American deserters from the Iraq war were now in Canada.

While the government does not publish figures, it appears that only  
about 50 deserters have made refugee applications, with the rest  
living illegally in Canada.

Exactly what Glass and others face if they return to the United States  
is unclear. Banks, the U.S. Army spokesman, said that Glass had been  
given "an other-than-honorable discharge" from the California National  
Guard but remained a member of the Army Reserve. He declined to say  
what, if anything, would happen to Glass if he returned to the United  

Glass, however, said he had been advised by a lawyer in the army's  
legal unit, and by a U.S. military law specialist he had hired, that  
the discharge did not mean that he would avoid desertion charges,  
which could bring the equivalent of a felony conviction and a prison  
sentence. "They said it doesn't change anything," Glass said,  
referring to his lawyers.

His Canadian lawyer agreed. The deserters have support among  
opposition members of Parliament, who have passed a motion asking the  
Canadian government to give deserters and their families legal  
immigrant status. The measure, however, is not binding, and the  
Conservatives have ignored it.

Bob Rae, a Liberal member of Parliament, acknowledged that the  
response of the Canadian public to the deserters' cause was muted  
compared with its reaction during the Vietnam War, partly because the  
current newcomers are volunteers, not conscripts. But, he argued, the  
public favors giving U.S. deserters special consideration.

"As a country which concluded that the Iraq conflict was not justified  
under international law, we have to take a position," Rae said.

Karen Shadd, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Immigration Department,  
said that no special deals were planned.

"Creating a special and unique channel would undermine the fairness of  
the system," she said.

The results under the current system have generally been discouraging  
for people like Glass, including a refusal by the Supreme Court of  
Canada to hear appeals from two deserters.

But deserters have won judgments as well. On July 4, a judge ordered a  
refugee board to reconsider the application of Joshua Key, a U.S. Army  
private who said he had witnessed many abuses by U.S. forces in Iraq.

As for Glass, he said he would return if ultimately ordered.

"I'm going to obey Canadian laws," Glass said. "I'm not going to break  
any laws here."

But what he would do in the United States is unclear. "I don't know,"  
he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

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