Iraq War Resisters Who Fled To Canada Beg Canadian Government To Let Them Stay

A group of Iraq war resisters, American soldiers who fled to Canada to avoid being deployed to Iraq, are now asking the Canadian government to let them stay, the Guardian is reporting.

About 200 American servicemen and women are believed to have fled to Canada to avoid having to go fight in the Iraq War, and only 15 or so are known to remain there. That’s small potatoes compared to the Vietnam era when some 90,000 Americans fled to Canada to resist the draft. And unlike Vietnam-era Canada, which welcomed draft resisters with open arms, Canada has not made life easy for Iraq War resisters who have sought refuge there. Now, they face being deported back to the U.S., where they may face prison time for desertion.

Iraq war resisters Canada
The Iraq War has been going on since 2003. [Photo by Giles Penfound/British Army via Getty Images]

Iraq War resister Joshua Key is one of those Americans.

Key remembers the exact moment he decided he could no longer participate in the Iraq War. Key says that he had befriended a 7-year-old local Iraqi girl who would come to the base each day to beg for bread and water. For weeks, Key gave the girl his rations. Then, one day, their friendship ended.

“Then one day the little girl comes running across the street with a smile on her face and her head exploded like a mushroom.”

The girl, standing just about 15 feet from Key at the time, had been shot and killed.

While back in the U.S. on leave, Key spoke to his lawyer about his options. He found that he had very few.

“[My lawyer] said ‘soldier you’ve got two choices: you either get back on that plane and go to Iraq or you’re going to prison.'”

Instead, Key chose to live the life of an outlaw. He packed up his family and hid out in Philadelphia for a while before eventually making his way to Canada. Shortly after he arrived, a conservative government took over in Canada, and although Canada’s participation in the Iraq War had ended, the government was not interested in harboring American war deserters. He and his fellow resisters were deemed criminals.

Rodney Watson, another American Iraq War resister, has been in Canada since fleeing there in 2006. In 2009, his claim for asylum was denied, and he has since taken refuge in a Vancouver church, which has provided him sanctuary.

“This is not a game, this is not a joke for me at all.”

Now that Justin Trudeau has instituted a more liberal government in Canada, Watson, Key, and other resisters are seeing a faint glimmer of hope. Sixty-three percent of Canadians now support the idea of allowing American war resisters to stay in Canada, and a court has given Trudeau until mid-September to decide whether or not to continue with the old policy of treating them as criminals.

Watson is calling on Trudeau to do the right thing and allow him to leave the walls of the church where he’s been holed up and live his life as a free man.

“I want to tell Justin Trudeau to please – I’m pleading – to do the right thing and allow me to be free with my son. Allow me to be a part of his life, to be a great father, a great role model.”

Ashlea Brockway has been living in Canada with her family since her husband, Jeremy, fled there to avoid going back to Iraq. In addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in Iraq, Jeremy’s condition is made worse by the constant worry that Canada will send him back to the U.S. to face trial for desertion.

“If we were to have to return to the United States… I’m afraid of what that would mean for my children, who would be ripped away from everything that they’ve ever known, as well as having their father taken away. And potentially losing him forever because I don’t think mentally he could handle being put through the stress of a court martial or whatever that process would be.”

Do you think American Iraq War resisters who have fled to Canada should be allowed to stay there, or should they be forced to return to the U.S. to face trial for desertion?

[Image via Protasov AN/Shutterstock]