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An American Deserter in Canada By: Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It was an Independence Day birthday present from Canada the United States could have done without.


In a potential setback for the American military and its war effort in Iraq, on July 4 a Canadian federal court ordered Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to reconsider its decision to deny American deserter Joshua Key, 30, refugee status. A Canadian newspaper, The National Post, which covered the story, said it was the first time a Canadian court has sided with an American deserter.


Unlike many of the approximately 100 American military personnel who have fled to Canada seeking asylum since the 2003 Iraq invasion, Key had actually been to the Middle Eastern country, having served eight months there with an engineering unit. His job in Iraq sometimes involved military actions against private residences, where he would “…blow open doors with explosives in raids and … assist in both securing the premises and detaining the adult male occupants.” These raids also occurred at night.


The Canadian judge, Robert Barnes, based his decision to ask the IRB to review Key’s claim on the grounds that these actions by the American military violate the Geneva Convention, which guarantees the humane treatment of civilians. Barnes said the American refugee applicant witnessed “… unjustified abuse, unwarranted detention, humiliation and looting by fellow soldiers.” The Geneva Convention, he continued, outlaws “…outrages upon personal dignity and degrading treatment” and “unlawful confinement.”


And it was Key’s refusal to participate further in such “…systematic violations of human rights that resulted from the conduct of the United States army in Iraq…” that should form the basis of his claim review.


“Officially condoned military misconduct falling well short of a war crime may support a claim to refugee protection,” Barnes ruled.


In rejecting his initial claim, the IRB stated the US military “…had not sought his (Key’s) complicity in war crimes or crimes against humanity.”


Key, who had enlisted in 2002, deserted the army in 2005, arriving with his wife and children in Canada in March of that year. This ruling has bought him at least another couple of years in Canada.


Other American deserters have based their claims for Canadian refugee status on religious grounds or as conscientious objectors. They sometimes claim war crimes are being committed in Iraq or that the war is illegal in order to bolster their cases. However, such claims have been turned down. One deserter denied refugee status, Corey Glass, is scheduled to be deported back to the United States on July 10 to face American military justice.


In an editorial, The National Post pointed out this recent decision by the Canadian federal court may cause the trickle of American military deserters to Canada to turn into a flood. All a disgruntled American soldier may have to say in the future in order to stay in Canada is that he witnessed a violation of the Geneva Convention in Iraq (and possibly also now in Afghanistan).


But anyone who has served in the military in a war zone knows violations of the Geneva Convention occur regularly. Unfortunately, and sometimes tragically, it simply goes with the territory of both regular and insurgent warfare. Key, for example, was blowing the doors off of homes because it was believed those houses contained weapons caches. This, obviously, is not the kind of military operation, in which one would ring the doorbell first and ask whether everyone is suitably dressed before entering the premises. War, after all, is not like taking two maiden aunties for a stroll in the park.


The ruling in Key’s case is a victory for the anti-American, pacifist and leftist organizations in Canada that have been helping American deserters from the Iraqi conflict. They have a long history of opposing American interests, dating back to the Vietnam War, and even include Americans who fled to Canada at that time to avoid serving in Southeast Asia. (By the way, these Americans no longer call themselves, and the current crop of AWOL military personnel for that matter, draft dodgers or deserters, but rather “war resisters”.)


For example, Key’s lawyer, Jeremey House, was a Vietnam War draft dodger who wound up in Canada. House has represented several deserters from the current U. S. military, including Jeremey Hinzmann, who was the first American ever to apply for refugee status in Canada in 2003. 


Overall, more than 100,000 Americans came to Canada because of the Vietnam War. Draft-aged males made up about half this figure, while a surprisingly high number, according to a Canadian university professor who wrote a book on the subject, were female. They were mostly middle class and educated, and thus were able to fit well into Canadian society, especially into local politics, academia and the media where their liberal, anti-American outlook helped shift Canadian institutions to the left.


While many of the men returned to the United States during the amnesty the Carter administration offered in 1977, about 25,000 remained in Canada. On the other hand, 20,000 Canadians voluntarily served with the American armed forces in Vietnam, prompting one American veteran of that conflict to say that Canada had sent America its best, while America had sent Canada its worst.  


Reinforcing the generational connection of those committed to undermining the American war effort, some of the current deserters have also joined the American draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam era at their annual gathering in Nelson, British Columbia, where notorious defeatists from that time, such as George McGovern and Tom Hayden, have addressed the audiences.


“Americans should be more like Canadians and Canadians should be less like Americans,” Hayden said in his speech.


But perhaps the most ominous development regarding the leftist, anti-war movement in Canada is the alliance it is forming with Muslim organizations.


In 2006, for example, the Canadian Islamic Congress joined the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Canadian Labour Congress to protest Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. The CIC’s national president at that time, Mohamad Elmrasy, had once said on television that every adult Israeli is a legitimate target for a suicide bomber since he or she is eligible for Israeli military service.


And just last year, a controversial imam in Toronto, Zafar Bangash, addressed a Marxism conference at the University of Toronto. He has also spoken on behalf of the Toronto Stop the War Coalition, one of whose members said Canadian anti-war activists would work with Muslims in Canada to help defeat imperialism (re: the United States).


This recent Canadian legal decision regarding deserters may become the chink in the America’s military armour such anti-American groups have been looking for. If Key is granted refugee status, these organizations will make sure to spread the news and offer to help any American military personnel who wish to come to Canada.


This irresponsible court decision will also provide confused and weak-willed soldiers facing a fading memory of 9/11 and a war against militant Islam without any foreseeable end with an easy out. Such soldiers will now perhaps arrive in Canada with made-up battlefield stories of human rights violations they supposedly witnessed. And while their number may not reach the 50,000 of the Vietnam era, a professional army of expensively trained volunteers cannot afford a steady haemorrhage of personnel.


But in the end, it is a Canadian court that allows American soldiers to choose the wars they like that is mostly to blame. It is not only allowing these young men to disobey the oath they swore to their leader and betray their country but also to betray themselves. Which, in the end, as they age, they will discover is the worst consequence of all.

Stephen Brown is a contributing editor at Frontpagemag.com. He has a graduate degree in Russian and Eastern European history. Email him at alsolzh@hotmail.com.

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