Deserters seek residency in Canada
By Lou Michel
Buffalo NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: 04/20/08 7:26 AM
Patrick Hart once vowed to protect his country with his life.
Now he is in another country, pledging allegiance to that nation and waiting to learn whether he will be allowed to stay.
Hart is among 200 U.S. military deserters in Canada, and they should know in a few weeks if they can begin the process of seeking permanent residency there.
This is home for me now, said Hart, 34, a Buffalo native who lives in the Toronto area with his wife and their young son. I love Canada. A lot of us have been here a few years and planted roots.
The Canadian House of Commons is expected to vote soon on a resolution that would allow him and the other deserters to seek residency there. Its considered a last resort a political solution because the Canadian courts have determined they lack the jurisdiction to rule on deserters claims that the war in Iraq is illegal and makes them eligible for asylum as refugees.
Hart says he went AWOL because the Iraq War was based on lies and that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
I understand that I volunteered for this and part of my oath was to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But what do you do if your enemy is domestic in the Bush regime? said Hart, who grew up in Riverside.
And while he and the others want to stay in Canada, the official stance from the Canadian governments Department of Citizenship and Immigration is not all that welcoming.
A separate immigration program for this group of applicants is not necessary nor warranted. Our immigration and refugee system is both generous and fair, and we encourage the use of existing channels by all those who wish to come to Canada, said Karen Shadd, a department spokeswoman.
She added that the countrys Immigration and Refugee Board has determined that the deserters have not proven they are in need of Canadas protection.
The board has to be satisfied that the claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution or that he or she, if removed, would be subjected to a danger of torture or risk to life or of cruel and unusual treatment and punishment, Shadd said.
Despite that official stance, the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto believes there is a good chance that parliament will pass the resolution, which is expected to be voted on at the end of the month or in early May.
I think that Prime Minister Stephen Harpers Conservative government realizes that most Canadians support U.S. soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq. I may be dreaming in color, but they have nothing to gain by deporting U.S. war resisters, said Michelle Robidoux, a campaign spokeswoman.
Jeffry A. House, a Toronto lawyer representing about 35 Americans seeking residency, explained that Harpers administration will be in an awkward situation if the resolution passes and is ignored by the prime minister.
If the House of Commons passes this resolution, it will be extremely important. The idea is the government still controls policy. But historically, if a House of Commons majority says we think this should be done, it will be extremely contrary to tradition for the Conservative administration to ignore the majority, said House, a conscientious objector who left Milwaukee and went to Canada during the Vietnam War.
House believes there are enough political blocs in the House of Commons to form a majority in support of the resolution.
But war veterans in Canada and on this side of the border are not pleased with the Americans seeking residency.
Its our belief that those who have deserted their countries forces at any time have broken the laws of their country and should be prosecuted as such, said Bob Butt, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Legion, the biggest veterans organization in Canada.
William Doc Schmitz, editor of the VFWs newspaper in New York State, could not agree more.
I think that they should throw the deserters back and let them pay the penalty for deserting the armed forces. When their penalty is served, then they can choose to either stay in the United States or anywhere in the world. Basically, you do the crime, you do the time, Schmitz said.
The penalties for desertion can include a dishonorable discharge, loss of pay and benefits, confinement of up to five years, and, if during time of war, the death penalty.
Schmitz says the deserters knew the deal when they voluntarily enlisted.
Why did they join the armed services, to pick the conflict? Basically, the armed services is a dictatorship, he said. Your elected officials are the bosses, and you do whatever they tell you what to do.
Hart, who served a year in Kuwait in 2003-04 during his nine years in the Army, said the volunteer military in the United States amounts to a draft for poor people.
And thats what he tells Canadians who oppose him and other deserters when they are out seeking support among that countrys citizens.
They say its not like it was during Vietnam because there is no draft now, and I tell them what they fail to understand is that its a poor mans draft. Basically if you want to get money for college, help your mom and dad or even yourself to get out of the ghetto, the Army makes it very easy to join, Hart said of the economic sign-up incentives that prompted him to enlist and twice re-enlist.
He also disputes the perception that members of the military are gung-ho warriors.
Everyone says that most of the American soldiers are patriots. Thats the picture that is painted and that they want to be over there in Iraq doing this. But if you talk to any soldier that is deployed over there or who has come back, youll find that they disagree and that it is all hogwash, Hart said.
American troops, he added, are in a no-win situation.
The Iraqi people dont want us there. Its a hostile situation, a powder keg, and here we are stuck in the middle of it. We overthrew this government that had at least some kind of semblance of control. But because it wasnt in Americas best interest to keep Saddam [Hussein] in power, we had to overthrow him, Hart said.
Since he deserted, Hart says he also has come to the conclusion that there are parallels between President Bush and Saddam.
Look at how many American soldiers have been exposed to depleted uranium because of Bush. Saddam used chemicals on his own people. He committed mass genocide on the Kurds. What our troops are doing, killing Iraqi people, wouldnt that be considered genocide as well? Hart said.
House, the attorney who like other U.S. conscientious objectors eventually received amnesty for refusing to fight in Vietnam, says that this newest wave of resisters has made a strong impression on him.
When I interview these guys in my office, I find them to be extremely decent human beings. Theyre not in any way shirking hard work and danger. But theyve been put in such extreme situations that they reach a point and they turn off and say I cant be associated with this.
Theyll tell me things like have you ever seen a human being melted? and then they find out that it was an uninvolved civilian who was just in the wrong place, House said.
Of Hart, the lawyer said, Hes clearly authentically concerned about what he learned of U.S. policy in Iraq. I think he properly decided that he didnt want to be associated with it.