Canada's House Backs War Resisters
Lawmakers Pass a Motion Urging the Government to Let US Military Deserters Stay. Dozens Seek Refugee Status.
OTTAWA - When U.S. soldier Corey Glass decided two years ago that he would rather be a criminal for fleeing the Iraq war than be a criminal by staying in it, there was one obvious place to go -- Canada, a refuge for Americans who had fled the Vietnam War draft.
But instead of being welcomed, he became the first deserter to receive orders to leave the country -- and ended up a symbol of Canada's conflicted sentiments about the war.
On Tuesday, Canada's House of Commons passed a motion urging the government to allow deserters to stay. The measure, though nonbinding, could lead to a last-minute reprieve for Glass and nearly 40 others who have asked for refugee status. Perhaps 200 more war dodgers are living in the country unannounced, waiting to see how Canada will ultimately declare itself, the War Resisters Support Campaign says.
Glass, 25, has lived for two years as though ready to bolt, his belongings stuffed in backpacks and boxes in a small Toronto apartment he shares with other resisters. He has fielded death threats and hate-filled e-mails from Americans who consider him a traitor and a coward.
Though pleased by the day's victory, he wonders whether anything can happen before his June 12 deportation deadline that would keep him from being sent back to the U.S., and perhaps to prison.
"Things never end up the way I expect," he said after the Parliament vote. "I didn't think I would end up in Iraq. I didn't think I would be asked to leave Canada. And I didn't think my case would end up here."
Glass joined the National Guard after high school in Fairmount, Ind., in 2002, with assurances that he wouldn't face combat, he said. He thought he would be sandbagging levee banks or quelling riots.
"They told me the only way you'll see war is if foreign troops storm the shores of Florida," he said. "I believed that."
But a year later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and in 2005 he was sent north of Baghdad and pressed into service as a military intelligence officer.
"There were a lot of things -- crimes -- going on that I can't talk about," he said. "It convinced me that the war was illegal and immoral, and I didn't want to be a part of it."
When Glass told his commanding officer that he couldn't continue fighting in a war that he didn't believe in, he was sent home for a two-week break. He never returned.
After Googling "desertion," Glass found his way to Toronto, to a semi-underground railroad for war resisters run by Lee Zaslofsky, an avuncular 63-year-old who had traveled the same path in 1970 to avoid the Vietnam War.
The Canada of that era was an idealistic place, led by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who declared the country "a refuge from militarism." Zaslofsky applied for residency at the border, and 50,000 to 80,000 other Americans sought sanctuary here.
Although another Liberal government sought to stop the Iraq invasion, present-day conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stood firm with the Bush administration in supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and imprisonments at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But the opposition parties that carried Tuesday's vote, 137-110, over Harper's conservatives are hoping the motion will help persuade the government to accept war resisters.
"Canada has always been a place that welcomes those who seek peace and freedom," said Bob Rae, a Liberal Party member of Parliament. "We want to see it remain that way."
So far, the government seems unmoved.
"The emotion in the House does not change the law in the country," Diane Finley, the minister for citizenship and immigration, said after the vote. "Once someone has gone through the legal process, we expect them to respect the results and leave the country when asked."
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada denied Glass and five others refugee status, ruling that they had not exhausted legal alternatives in the U.S., and would not face persecution if they returned.
But Canada's government, confronted with a swell of support for the resisters, could put a quiet hold on Glass' deportation order, or choose not to immediately carry it out, said Jack Layton, leader of the leftist New Democratic Party, who helped push the motion.
At a post-vote celebration at an Irish pub near Parliament, Glass and dozens of resisters who came from Toronto on a bus hoisted mugs of beer.
There was Phil McDowell, who was discharged, then "stop-lossed," told that he had to go back again. And Linjamin Mull, a social worker from Harlem who joined up because poverty gave him no other choice. And Josh Keys, who fled to Canada with his wife and three children without bidding his mother goodbye, and still has violent nightmares.
All are in legal limbo.
"We used to joke about who is going to be the first to be deported," Mull said.
© 2008 Los Angeles Times