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Despite Key Decision, Long Process Seems Likely to End in Deportation

July 12, 2008

From a Canadian viewpoint, one interesting aspect of the war in Iraq is that Canada is reprising its Vietnam-era role as a destination for American deserters. Approximately 200 American military personnel are thought to have fled to Canada rather than fight in Iraq, and many of them have formally applied for refugee status. The War Resisters Support Campaign has a dozen or so of their individual stories here.

The case of one “resister”, Joshua Key, is particularly notable. Key served eight months in Iraq, but became disillusioned with the war. He went AWOL and turned up in Canada, claiming asylum. He subsequently published a book called The Deserter’s Tale, in collaboration with the writer Lawrence Hill. A long excerpt available online describes Key’s experiences as a participant in clumsy, heavy-handed raids on Iraqi homes, smashing furniture and arresting civilians but never finding “weapons or indications of terrorism”. Eventually Key came to a grim conclusion about U.S. involvement in Iraq:

It struck me then that we, the American soldiers, were the terrorists. We were terrorizing Iraqis. Intimidating them. Beating them. Destroying their homes. Probably raping them. The ones we didn’t kill had all the reasons in the world to become terrorists themselves. Given what we were doing to them, who could blame them for wanting to kill us, and all Americans?

Taking Key’s account at face value – which may be risky, considering that like other asylum-seekers he has an incentive to exaggerate – Joshua Key’s asylum application rests on the argument that he was ordered to violate the Geneva Conventions. Canada’s refugee board initially rejected this argument because the violations did not amount to systematically committed war crimes. However, a recent successful appeal to the Federal Court will force the board to reconsider its decision, taking into account the possibility that “military misconduct falling well short of a war crime may support a claim to refugee protection”. Meanwhile another U.S. deserter, Robin Long, was recently arrested in Nelson, B.C. and may be deported within days.

I have my opinions as to how we Canadians should handle the situation, but I don’t have space to argue them in this blog post. Should we send all the deserters back to America in handcuffs? Implement last month’s non-binding parliamentary resolution to give them all permanent resident status? Decide their asylum applications on a case-by-case basis? Just ask a Norwegian? Let us know what you think.

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