U.S. army deserter Rodney Watson has become the first fugitive from service in Iraq to enter church sanctuary in Canada.
Monday morning, the 31-year-old told reporters he has been living in refuge at the First United Church in Vancouver since Sept. 18.
"I don't believe it will be just for me to be deported," said Watson, flanked by church ministers and supporters. Watson lost his refugee claim on Sept. 11, and was expecting to be deported back to the U.S., where he faces jail for refusing to do a second tour of duty in Iraq.
The main reason Watson wants to stay is to be with his 10-month-old son and fiancee, who live in Vancouver. Watson said his son is currently in foster care, but wouldn't say why. He said he plans to get married and settle in B.C.
Ric Matthews, minister with the First United Church, said Watson has an apartment at the church, and is fed on-site. Watson cannot leave the grounds of the church.
Matthews said the church agreed to let Watson take refuge because it doesn't support the Iraq War, or the way the U.S. military treated Watson — who signed up to be a military cook, but was ordered to find explosives.
"We expect the authorities will continue to respect this place as a place of sanctuary," he said.
Sarah Bjorknas of the War Resisters Support Campaign Vancouver said three out of the five military deserters who have been deported from Canada since 2008 have been jailed.
A statement by Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies said she'll continue to ask the Tory government to honour two non-binding votes in Parliament to allow army deserters to seek asylum in Canada.
"The government has chosen to ignore the will of the majority view of Canadians," said Bjorknas.
This man can stay in Canada legally. Canadians can make this happen. Tell your MP to support Bill C-440!