Contextual Content

Canada gives US deserter second chance

U.S. deserter wins appeal in battle for refugee status

Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service

Published: Friday, July 04, 2008

OTTAWA – A Canadian court has sided for the first time with a military deserter who fled to Canada seeking refugee status, ruling Friday that the US soldier witnessed enough human rights abuses during a stint in Iraq that he could qualify for asylum.

 

The decision also marked the first time that the federal court, which has heard a handful of cases involving deserters, concluded that military action against civilians in Iraq violates the 1949 Geneva Convention, an international prohibition against humiliating and degrading treatment.

Federal Court Justice Richard Barnes ordered the Immigration and Refugee Board to reconsider the failed refugee claim of Joshua Key, a soldier who entered Canada with his wife, Brandi, and their small children in March 2005.

Key, an army private, deserted during a two-week break from serving as a combat engineer in Iraq, where he spent eight months in 2003 and says he was involved in military-condoned home invasions against civilians.

 

"This is a real breakthrough," said Lee Zaslofsky of the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign. "What excites us is this may also apply to other war resisters who took part in Iraq."

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Story Transcript

VOICE OF CARLO BASILONE: Canada’s Refugee Board was ordered by a judge to rehear an application by a US war resister to remain in Canada. Federal Court Justice Robert Barnes said that mistakes were made by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board when they turned down Joshua Key’s claim for asylum. In 2003, Key served eight months in Iraq as a combat engineer. On his return to the US on leave, he and his wife and four young children moved to Canada to seek refuge. In 2007, he coauthored a book, The Deserter’s Tale, with Lawrence Hill, about his experiences in Iraq. Joshua’s lawyer, Jeffry House, talked to us about the judge’s decision.

JEFFRY HOUSE, LAWYER FOR JOSHUA KEY: The Refugee Board found that Joshua Key was required, on a systematic basis as a soldier, to violate the Geneva Conventions. And that decision by the Refugee Board would have led to refugee status, except the board said, no, that’s not enough: he must also show that he was required to commit war crimes. The justice said the other day, no, you’re wrong: even violations of the Geneva Conventions are sufficient to give a basis for a refugee claim.

BASILONE: What’s Joshua’s next step now?

HOUSE: Well, we have to wait and see whether the government of Canada appeals this decision. If they do, then we’ll follow along the appeal and make the same arguments in the superior courts. If they don’t, we will probably have a hearing in September or October.

BASILONE: There are more than 200 US war deserters in Canada avoiding service in Iraq. A recent poll showed that 64 percent of Canadians would let US war resisters stay in the country. On June 3, the Canadian Parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for deserters to be allowed to stay and to put a halt to deportations. So far, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a close ally of the Bush administration, has ignored the resolution. Sergeant Cory Glass, who is due to be removed from Canada next week, has made an Internet appeal to the prime minister.

SGT. CORY GLASS, US IRAQ WAR RESISTER IN CANADA: Hello, Prime Minister Harper. I’m Cory Glass, and I’m an Iraq War veteran. I left the US because of my opposition to the Iraq War. If I’m returned to the US, I could face court martial, jail time, or even redeployment to Iraq. I have not been discharged from the United States military, and I’m now currently in the individual ready reserve. The people of Canada support us. A recent poll showed that Canada wants war resisters to stay, and Parliament voted on June 3 to allow us to stay in Canada. I have lived and worked in Canada for almost two years. I hope you will give full consideration to my case and the will of Canadian people, and please stop my deportation before July 10. Thank you.

BASILONE: The July 10 deportation order is still in effect. But will this ruling by Justice Barnes help others?

HOUSE: I think it will primarily have an effect on people who’ve been soldiers in Iraq and who have been ordered to do things that are inappropriate. It’s likely to have less of an impact on people whose objection to the Iraq War is simply the war violates international law—it was not defensive in nature. Those people can’t really point to any specific on-the-ground order to violate the Geneva Conventions, and so they may be in a different situation. Overall, I would say the decision tells the board that it’s been looking at these cases too narrowly, and I would expect there’d be a substantial number of cases that benefit from it.

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