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U.S. military deserters don't deserve refugee status

They broke their contract. Even Canada gets that.

By Rondi Adamson / August 1, 2008


American military deserter Robin Long may well have reasons to think he should not serve in Iraq. That said, I was relieved to hear he had been deported from Canada – where he had lived since June 2005 – to the United States on July 15.

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The Boomer generation got its wish for a volunteer army after the draft of the Vietnam War. And that is a good thing, for myriad reasons. A volunteer military is more effective and professional, and it certainly makes the matter of deserters an open-and-shut case.

Quaint notions of integrity, duty, and honor aside, cases such as Mr. Long's boil down to a simple contract matter, not one's opinion of a particular war. A volunteer army renders moot the idea that Canadians should provide a haven to those who wish to break their contract with the US military.

One could be forgiven for concluding otherwise.

Since 2004, US deserters have been trickling into Canada – today there are about 200 – to praise from aging Vietnam draft dodgers, the chattering classes, Canada's literati, and the overlap of the three. These sympathizers refer to the deserters as "resisters." A stroll through upscale Toronto neighborhoods isn't complete without seeing "War Resisters Welcome Here" stickers in the windows of homes far beyond the financial reach of most of the deserters.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has not been so welcoming. The IRB has turned down applications for refugee status from several American deserters, most of whom are still here, running down whatever legal avenue they can find. Refugee cases in Canada can take years, thanks to an accessible appeals system and a lumbering bureaucracy.

Broadly speaking, refugee status in Canada is reserved for people who have fled from unfree countries and who might reasonably fear for their safety should they be returned home. As the days of the draft are long gone, so are the days of Eddie Slovik the World War II private who was the first deserter since the Civil War to be executed.

In some cases, it's not clear what the deserters are seeking refuge from. Corey Glass, who faces deportation, was discharged from the US military some time ago, according to ABC News. In other words, he's free to go – but might he miss the sight of those antiwar protesters carrying placards in his defense?