TORONTO – An American national guardsman who refused to redeploy to Iraq pleaded with the Canadian government on Wednesday to let him stay in Canada, despite an order from immigration officials that he leave within three weeks.
Sgt. Corey Glass, 25, is said to be the first Iraqi war dodger from the U.S. to face imminent deportation from Canada.
"I don't think it is fair that I should be returned to the United States to face unjust punishment for doing what I felt morally obligated to do," Glass said.
"I appeal to the Canadian people and the Canadian government to honor their tradition of respect for human rights and support my decision not to participate in this unjust war."
Like other American soldiers who fled to Canada, Glass's claim for refugee status has been turned down on the grounds he faces prosecution in the U.S., not persecution.
A separate Canadian federal assessment concluded he might be punished for desertion but that did not mean he was at serious risk of abuse in the U.S.
"The applicant faces no more than a mere possibility of persecution," the unnamed immigration officer decided in a decision released Wednesday.
He was given until June 12 to leave or face forced removal.
Glass joined the U.S. National Guard in 2002 believing it was a "humanitarian organization." He said he was told he would never be deployed abroad to combat.
In 2005, he was sent to Iraq, where he spent five months in military intelligence. The job, he said, gave him broad insight into what was going on there.
"I realized innocent people were killed unjustly," said Glass, who is living in Toronto.
While on leave in the U.S., he decided to desert. After seven months in hiding, he fled to Canada because he knew it had become a destination for others in his situation, and had given refuge to tens of thousands of Vietnam War draft dodgers in the 1970s.
He arrived in August 2006, one of an estimated 200 American soldiers who have come to Canada rather than fight in a war they argue is illegal because it has no United Nations sanction.
In one recent case, a soldier who went absent without leave for seven weeks was jailed for seven months and given a dishonorable discharge, which amounts to a criminal record.
Vietnam War draft dodger Lee Zaslofsky called it a "dark day," saying Canada, which refused to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was disavowing its long tradition of welcoming American dissenters.
Ottawa was doing Washington's "dirty work" by rounding up those who don't want to fight in Iraq, said Zaslofsky, with the War Resisters Support Campaign.
Joshua Key, another deserter whose refugee claim is still winding its way through Canadian appeal courts, said the Glass decision was worrisome for those hoping to stay in Canada.
Several church groups issued a joint statement calling on the government to recognize the war resisters as conscientious objectors and let them stay.
"Sadly, Canada has failed Corey Glass," said Jane Orion Smith of the Canadian Friends Service Committee. "More than that, it has failed Canadians."