War resister released from U.S. prison wants to come back to Canada
By Ciara Byrne (CP)
January 15, 2010
An Iraq war resister who spent almost a year in prison after fleeing the United States to make his home in a small community in British Columbia was released Saturday and now says he wants to return to Canada.
Cliff Cornell, 29, was to spend an entire year in the cramped quarters at a military prison at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but a letter-writing campaign buttressed by Canadian support helped to convince authorities to reduce Cornell's sentence.
Military officials agreed to release Cornell a few weeks shy of the one-year mark, which means his conviction is not considered a felony – a detail that could make it easier for him to return to Canada.
“My long term goal is to try to get back up there to Canada,” Cornell said as he sat in a car shortly after his release. “I love it up there, and I had a lot of friends up there.”
Cornell's ordeal began in 2005 after he refused to deploy to Iraq and fled to Canada. He arrived in Toronto and applied for refugee status, along with other war resisters, before moving to Gabriola Island, B.C.
While on the West Coast, he worked as a clerk at a grocery store and soon earned the support of the community, which rallied around his efforts to stay north of the border.
In February 2009, he was ordered deported and he left the country voluntarily. As he crossed the border, U.S. authorities arrested him, and he was sentenced to a year behind bars for desertion.
“The place they put me in is really set up for a short time, so the rules are a lot more strict than they would be in a long-term facility,” Cornell said, describing what he called the shabby conditions of his detention in a facility designed more for short-term stays.
“Back in December we went about two weeks without having any heat, it got really cold inside the building,” he recalled.
The War Resisters Support Campaign argued Cornell's case is another reason why U.S. war resisters should be able to stay in Canada.
Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman from the campaign, pointed out that two non-binding motions were put before Parliament to stop deportations until immigration cases are heard. The two motions were passed.
Toronto MP Gerard Kennedy submitted a private member's bill hoping to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow war resisters the chance to stay in Canada.
“(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper defined us as not welcoming to people of conscience like Mr. Cornell and as a result Mr. Cornell paid a hefty penalty,” said Kennedy, adding other resisters are at risk of being sent back to face imprisonment.
Cornell will spend a few days with a group of Quakers in Fayetteville, North Carolina, who also campaigned for his release, before travelling to Arkansas to see his family.
“Right now, I'm just anxious to get home,” said Cornell. “I haven't seen my family in five years.”
Cornell and his supporters understand the battle to get back into Canada may be difficult.
“It won't be easy. For people to immigrate to Canada it's a pretty, long and arduous thing to do,” said Robidoux, adding Cornell's criminal record may make any application inadmissible.
For Cornell, the year can be summed up with one word: “rough,” but he says he doesn't regret his decision to desert.
“No, I stand behind my decision 100 per cent. What I did was right. I'm not about killing innocent people.”
No one from Citizenship and Immigration Canada was immediately available to discuss Cornell's case.
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