Next month, the Canadian House of Commons is slated to debate a resolution that would allow conscientious objectors "who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations" to apply for residency in Canada. The phrasing is vague but the intent is not. The war in question is the Iraq war, and the resolution represents the culmination of a four-year debate about what to do with the small but steady stream of American soldiers who have fled across our northern border to avoid fighting in Iraq.
It all began in Jan. 2004, when a young American with a long, serious face walked into the Toronto law office of Jeffry House to ask for help with what was at the time a highly unusual immigration case. The American turned out to be a soldier named Jeremy Hinzman, an infantryman in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He told House that his petition for conscientious-objector status was denied while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He crossed the border into Canada just days before his unit was to be deployed to Iraq. Of the more than 25,000 American soldiers who, according to the United States Department of Defense, have deserted since 2003, the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign estimates that 225 have fled to Canada. (The D.O.D defines a deserter as anyone who has been AWOL for 30 consecutive days or who seeks asylum in a foreign country; desertion carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.)
The majority of the deserters in Canada have chosen not to make the authorities aware of their presence. Like any other illegal immigrants, they have settled for invisibility. A few dozen, though, followed Hinzman's lead. Most found their way to Jeffry House. One young Army medic named Justin Colby read an AOL news posting about Hinzman's case while stationed in Iraq. He telephoned House from Ramadi and showed up in his office a few months later.
House would eventually represent between 30 and 35 American deserters. Most of them, like Colby, say they joined the military in part out of patriotism. "I thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11," Colby says, "that they were the bad guys that attacked our country." But unlike Hinzman, most did not apply for conscientious-objector status. They tend to say they aren't opposed to all wars in principle — just to the one they were ordered to fight. It wasn't until Colby arrived in Iraq that he started to see the conflict as "a war of aggression, totally unprovoked," he says. "I was, like, 'This is what my buddies are dying for?'" Midway through his tour, he decided: "I'm never going to do this again." He went AWOL the day before his unit left to train for a second deployment. House says that more than two-thirds of his clients have been deployed to Iraq at least once. "One is resisting a third deployment."
Tens of thousands of American draft dodgers and deserters took refuge in Canada in the late 1960s and early '70s. ...
I'm reading the story now. It seems to be an honest and generally positive view of the resisters and the Campaign.