New Generation of American Deserters in Canada
Some Vietnam era American draft dodgers who still live in Canada are now heading up an “underground railroad” of sorts for American deserters, Asharq Al-Awsat reports.
When 26 year old Lee Zaslofsky bid his parents farewell as he prepared to flee to an unknown future in Canada, rather then serve in a war he did not believe in, little did he know that three decades later he would be at the forefront of a campaign to help a new generation of US soldiers flee a war and seek asylum in Canada. The US Army is facing difficulties in recruitment; the monthly number of army volunteers is at its lowest in years, in addition to an increasing number of soldiers opting to go north to Canada rather than east to Iraq. After evading the Vietnam War by seeking refuge in Canada in January 1970, where he has remained since; Zaslofsky is now trying to help soldiers who have made the same choice with regards to the war in Iraq.
“I never expected this to happen in my country again,” Zaslofsky told Asharq Al-Awsat in reference to the US being embroiled in a long war that lacks public support. Zaslofsky, speaking from Toronto, added, “Many of these American soldiers decide against fighting in this war, like they did with Vietnam, because they feel sorry for what they’ve seen happen to the people there. They prefer the hard choice of leaving their country for good rather than being involved in this war.”
Since 2004, Zaslofsky has been working with the War Resisters Support Campaign, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to help American soldiers fleeing to Canada and protect their rights. With approximately 75 volunteers, Zaslofsky explained that the campaign, “aims to help those (soldiers) who arrive in Canada in several ways: we provide them with material aid and give them legal advice and provide them with housing at the houses of volunteers.” He added that, “the other part of our work is the important political work, raising awareness in the media and pushing the Canadian government to allow them to stay here.”
I must say, it’s a fascinating concept: A neighboring ally harboring criminal deserters from our all-volunteer armed forces. It appears, however, that the Canadian government, while apparently not going out of its way to stop this, is not providing active support.
In March 2005, Hinzman applied to be discharged or reassigned as a Conscientious Objector (CO) against the war in Iraq, but the IRB did not consider the reason sufficient to grant him asylum in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to consider Hinzman’s case this fall. If the Supreme Court were to agree to hear his case then the issue of US soldiers seeking asylum in Canada will become a wide-spanning judicial one that will compel the IRB to look into more cases. However, until this time comes, Hinzman, like other US soldiers, will continue to await a change in Canadian policy.
It is worth noting that between 1965 and 1973, over 50,000 Americans who were within the conscription age during the Vietnam War moved to Canada to dodge the draft. Adopting a stance against the war, Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister stated, “Those who make the conscientious judgments that they must not participate in the war… have my complete sympathy,” confirming that, “Canada should be a refuge from militarism.” However, the incumbent Canadian government, led by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, and who is close to President George W. Bush, does not want to open its doors to fleeing US soldiers.
Despite the Canadian government’s caution to maintain good relations with the US administration, there is public pressure and demands to let the American troops remain in Canada. According to a poll published last August 16, 64.5 percent of the population of Ontario, one of Canada’s largest provinces, voted in favor of allowing the US troops to stay in Canada, while 27.2 percent voted that they be repatriated back to the United States, and the rest were unsure.
What’s interesting is the U.S. Government isn’t doing much on this front, either.
The US Department of Defense refused to comment on the issue of US soldiers in Canada; however, a spokesperson said that, “In 2006 there was a slight increase from previous years”. Regarding the consequences of sending soldiers to the US after going AWOL, she said “each case is evaluated on an individual basis, but the policy is to return most deserters to their unit because those commanders are in the best position to address the soldiers’ specific issues.” Moreover, she explained that, “the army does not actively look for deserters, but they can be returned to military control by civilian law enforcement. This normally happens when police check identification during a traffic stop.”
One would think a somewhat more proactive response would be called for.
Most of those who fled to Canada in the Vietnam era were civilians trying to avoid military conscription, whether out of genuine conviction or simple cowardice. These people, however, volunteered for military service and swore an oath to serve.
via email alert from John Burgess