VANCOUVER - U.S. army deserter Robin Long is slated to be deported back to his army base in Fort Knox, Ky., today, which would make him the first resister to the U.S. war effort in Iraq to be sent out of Canada.
Madam Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court of Canada cleared the way for the deportation late yesterday, dismissing a last-ditch attempt to delay the process while the 25-year-old pursued further appeals.
"I was just shocked at some things in [the] ruling," Bob Ages, a spokesman for an informal group called Vancouver War Resisters Support Campaign, told reporters outside the courtroom. "It just flies in the face of everything that we and every Canadian know about the reality of what is going on."
Mr. Ages said the court misunderstood the situation facing Mr. Long upon his return.
"I do not think there is any doubt someone being up in Canada, and a vocal opponent to the war, will be treated harshly by the American military ... there is no question he will be court-martialed and will receive severe punishment."
Mr. Long's deportation would be a "terrible precedent for Canada, especially given our history of providing sanctuary for war resisters, over 100,000 draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam era," he said earlier to reporters.
"This will be the first time Canada played gendarme to the American military," Mr. Ages said, appealing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Immigration Minister Diane Finley to intervene. Members of the support group were to meet at the Peace Arch border crossing this morning to protest the deportation.
The war resisters support group is aware of about 50 deserters in Canada, Mr. Ages said, although the group has been told that "hundreds" are living underground in Canada.
Mr. Long, who fled to Ontario in 2005, had signed up to join the U.S. Army in July, 2003.
He believed at that time that his country was justified in going to war in Iraq, his lawyer Shepherd Moss said at the court hearing to halt the deportation. Mr. Long intended to train as a tank commander. "He wanted to go to defend his country," Mr. Moss said.
His perspective changed while in training at the army base at Fort Knox. After hearing that weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq, Mr. Long thought the U.S. had no reason for being at war. Also, he was troubled by evidence of abuse of Iraqi detainees that came out in May of 2004, Mr. Moss said.
Mr. Long concluded the abuse was systemic and condoned by the U.S. administration, Mr. Moss said. After some soul-searching, Mr. Long decided he would not go to Iraq and would not participate or be complicit in what he believed were war crimes, the lawyer said.
Mr. Long fled to Ontario, but moved to B.C. last summer. He sought to be accepted as a refugee in September, 2006. His application for refugee status was denied on Feb. 15, 2007. An application for leave to appeal the decision was turned down.
In a final attempt to stay in Canada, Mr. Long applied yesterday for a stay of the removal order in order to allow him further judicial appeals.
Mr. Long was not in court for the hearing yesterday. He was in custody at a location outside Vancouver after failing on two previous occasions to report to authorities when he was required.
Caroline Christiaens, a lawyer with the federal Department of Justice, told the court that Mr. Long voluntarily joined the army, was not deployed to Iraq and did not apply to be recognized as a conscientious objector while in the United States.
No evidence was submitted on what Mr. Long would be required to do in Iraq, whether he could have requested an alternative assignment or what would happen if he was sent back to the United States, she said.
If Mr. Long was returned to the United States and prosecuted as a deserter, he would have access to due process in a military court, she added.
Judge Mactavish said Mr. Long had to provide "clear and non-speculative evidence" that he would suffer irreparable harm if he were not allowed to stay longer in Canada. Mr. Long asserted he would face significant jail time and suffer adverse consequences as a result of a dishonourable discharge from the military.
The vast majority of American deserters have not been prosecuted for desertion, according to evidence before the court, the judge stated in a four-page decision.
Judge Mactavish also stated that Mr. Long did not provide evidence to show he would be singled out for harsh treatment by the U.S. military because of the publicity associated with case.
The United States has a sophisticated military-justice system that respects the rights of service personnel, she said.
The court heard that Mr. Long would likely be returned to his army unit, which would mete out whatever punishment he would receive.
Spokespersons from Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not respond to phone calls late yesterday from The Globe and Mail.
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