Bi-national mobilization for Iraq war resisters in Canada

US war resister Corey Glass, an Iraq war veteran who served with the National Guard, won a stay of removal from a Canadian federal court July 9. Glass, who came to Canada in 2006, was scheduled to be deported the next day. He will remain in Canada while the court reviews and decides on his applications for leave and judicial review. A federal court also ordered the Immigration and Refugee Board to reconsider the failed refugee claim of Joshua Key, who came to Canada in March 2005, after deserting during a two-week break from serving in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Canadian anti-war groups and supporters of US war resisters are keeping up their fight to keep Robin Long, who fled to Canada to avoid being sent to Iraq, from being deported to the US. Long could be deported as early as Monday despite a recent non-binding 137-110 vote by Parliament calling for Ottawa “to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members…to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.” Long, 25, is being held in the city jail in Nelson, BC, after being arrested by police July 4 on an outstanding immigration warrant.

“Our lawyers are applying for a stay of deportation,” said Bob Ages, chairman of the Vancouver War Resisters Support Campaign. “We think it’s outrageous,” said Ages of the decision to deport Long. “It’s basically violation of the rules and an ambush.” The NDP-backed motion called on the Conservative government to “cease any removal or deportation actions” against US soldiers “who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations.” (CanWest News Service, July 9)

In Toronto, Glass said jubilation over his own court victory was tempered by Long’s detention. “Robin Long is sitting in jail, so I can’t celebrate right now. I’m not going to celebrate until he gets out of there.” The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) alleged that Long had violated his release conditions by failing to inform them of address changes. With no work permit allowing him to earn money, Long had been “couch surfing” at the residences of friends. (Toronto Globe & Mail, July 10)

Like many of the resisters in Canada, Glass eventually made contact with Lee Zaslofsky, a Brooklyn native who deserted the US Army for Toronto in 1970. Zaslofsky, a national coordinator for the War Resisters Support Campaign, told Glass that while he would be beyond the reach of the U.S. military in Canada, there were no guarantees he could stay in the country. It is estimated that some 20,000 US nationals came to Canada to escape the Vietnam-era draft, while an additional 12,000 deserted the armed forces and entered the country. Zaslofsky estimates some 200 resisters from the Iraq war are now in Canada. Some 50 have sought asylum. (IHT, July 10)

July 9 actions at Canadian consulates in 14 US cities were spearheaded by Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Project Safe Haven.

The Wall Street Journal—whose editors are of the class whose offspring are disproportionately not serving in Iraq—editorialized July 11:

War is hell, and no doubt some of these deserters are responding to the trauma of their experience. But a military can’t succeed in its mission if soldiers can decide on their own when and whether to obey orders. The Army officially describes desertion or going AWOL as “crimes that not only affect the soldier, but in a time of war, put other soldiers’ lives at risk. Not only do these crimes go against Army values, they degrade unit readiness.” This is why, in previous eras, deserters were simply shot.

The Harper government’s decision to send the Yanks home shows respect for the U.S. military and our rule of law. It also honors those Canadians who are serving, and dying, as part of the NATO force in Afghanistan. American deserters need to return and face their responsibilities.

Liberal MP Bob Rae offered another view in Toronto’s The Star, July 11:

As in Vietnam, Canadian and American positions on the war in Iraq are quite different. Canada made it very clear that it did not think there was justification under international law for the invasion. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was not an ally of Osama bin Laden. Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the UN at the time, made it clear that the invasion was “illegal.”

A soldier who is told to fight faces a conflict of values and loyalties. His president has told him things that he later discovers are quite untrue. His congressman and senator say they were misled, and would not have authorized the invasion had they been given accurate information. He realizes that what he’s being asked to do is in no way authorized by international law. Political support for the mission is drying up. Hence the refusal to serve, or even the refusal to follow orders, or the refusal to show up for reserve duty when the call-up comes once again.

Putting things in perspective, the flow across the border – in Vietnam times more than 50,000 strong – is a trickle today. There is no draft, and it is a different time.

But the claim of conscience is as strong today as it was then. The people who are returned will face harassment, opprobrium, a criminal record. Their lives will be changed forever, and not for the better.

There is provision in our system to allow the minister of immigration to exercise discretion “on humanitarian and compassionate grounds” to those even denied refugee status to stay legally in Canada as permanent residents…

But the Harper government takes a different view. Our prisons become an extension of American martial law. The same government that won’t lift a finger for Omar Khadr, that won’t raise its voice on behalf of those Canadians on death row in the U.S., acts more and more like a Republican farm team than a sovereign government.

See our last posts on Iraq, war resisters and Canada.