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Canada - War Deserters -

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(generated from captions) Welcome to the program. I'm Tracy Bowden in Toronto. Bush announced a surge in troops Ever since US President George W. in Iraq increase there's been a small but steady in the number of soldiers going AWOL to seek sanctuary in Canada. and crossing the border

the conflict in Iraq Rather than face in the United States, or possible jail they're seeking refugee status here.

and face a much tougher journey But they're in legal limbo, during the Vietnam War. than those who made the same decision MUSIC

crossroads in my life PATRICK HART: I knew I was at a what I was going to do. and wasn't quite sure along with my family at the time - I was leaving behind - pretty much the American dream.

Patrick Hart remembers vividly over this bridge, the day he travelled north possibly for the last time. Coming over the Peace Bridge,

as to what I was doing. I hadn't quite made up my mind from the United States into Canada, Crossing over the Niagara River, he was embarking on a journey towards the unknown. from the familiar everything was going to be OK. I just had a gut feeling that And everything is OK, you know - about being deployed, I don't have to worry have to...have to worry my son doesn't to see daddy again, about when he is going 'cause he sees daddy every day. Patrick Hart was a career soldier. in the industrial city of Buffalo, Born and raised in northern New York State, and the security of the military. he thrived on the routine in World War II. My grandfather was a mess sergeant My Dad served in the navy.

joined the military - Everyone I knew you know, it is just what you did. He was great at it. It suited him. respected him so much. The soldiers beneath him military wife. Jill Hart was a proud and patriotic You know people made jokes - red, white and blue", you know. "Oh, Mrs Hart? She bleeds My whole house was it was red, white and blue. and that is not a joke - the kitchen - everything. The whole living room, to support something I felt like if you are going

you support it 100%.

in Kuwait in 2005, But during a tour of duty Patrick Hart started to question

his next deployment to Iraq. whether he could face were coming into Kuwait. All the units returning from Iraq when they got there You know, I would meet them and they would show me a little DVD, some with video - some pictures. photos that they had taken - you know? And these photos were just insane,

50-calibre machine guns. Just people being ripped apart by There's nothing left of them.

I have seen pictures all over their hands. of babies with chemical burns you couldn't go to Iraq? So, you felt, morally, I felt like I could... what they were doing, I could have done

what I signed up to do, you know. but that is not... That's not

not do stuff like that. I signed up to help people, our most recent soldier... Warmly welcome Patrick Hart, CROWD CHANTS So, Patrick Hart went AWOL. at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, While on leave from his base he fled to Canada, and their supporters. joining other deserters

welcome here! (Crowd chants) War resisters in Iraq, In a country opposed to the war Patrick Hart's dilemma, many Canadians understand to him and the other deserters. and have extended a warm welcome crossed the border to Iraq. When I was in Kuwait, I never

Thank God for that. I don't have any blood on my hands.

the US without telling his wife. He'd made his decision and left I remember him saying, "Hi, honey", That afternoon he called. for about 45 minutes. and then I remember screaming I was sick to the stomach. I was terrified. I thought, "Oh, my God." never came into my mind The word 'coward' and I know he is not a coward. because I know my husband came to my mind - But the word 'traitor'

I have to be honest. as a traitor to this government? I thought, "Will people view him you know, "Would people view him," that they view terrorists?" "in the same manner What would you have done beforehand what he was planning? if your husband had told you I would have turned him in. his company commander. I would have called I would have said, "My husband had a conversation with me that he thinks "where he expressed than going to Iraq. "going AWOL is a better option "Please come and get him." that was the right thing to do. And I would have done that because I've always loved my husband, I love my husband, but he was going to break the law.

what to do next, Jill Hart didn't know made for her but says the decision was her husband's commanding officer, during a conversation with who was devising ways to get his AWOL soldier back.

at the talks she now gives It's a story she re-tells

of deserters. on behalf of the spouses to get word to your husband He said, "We can arrange "that you have been so severely sexually assaulted to take custody of your son." "that he needs to come back that I could say was, And, in two seconds, the only thing but this conversation is over." "I am sorry, sir, to join my husband in Canada. And that's when I made the decision Within just a few weeks, Jill Hart crossed the border with the couple's young son. I would rather be in Canada than to be in the States

and have Patrick in prison for God knows how long in a country where the maximum penalty for what he has done is death by firing squad. That is insane. (Phone rings) War resisters. Lee Zaslofsky has become something of a father figure to the deserters.

As coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, he meets them on arrival, arranges housing, and helps them settle in. How will you be getting here, car or bus? He also sought sanctuary in Canada almost 40 years ago during another controversial war.

I didn't believe in the war - I believed it was wrong, so when it came - when they gave me orders to go to Vietnam, I had a decision to make. So, I decided to come to Canada and, frankly, it was the best decision I ever made in my life but it was very difficult. It was hard on my parents for sure.

SOLDIER: Bring him back here! Remember to stop the bleeding! Between 1965 and 1973, during the days of the draft, as many as 50,000 Americans went to Canada rather than fight in Vietnam. CROWD CHANTS IN PROTEST Despite a US amnesty in the late 1970s pardoning draft evaders, many stayed on in Canada. Back then, it was relatively easy to gain permanent residency

and start a new life. What they want now is for people to apply in their home countries and wait for as long as it takes - it could take a year - before they, in their home country, to see whether Canada wants to let them in. Well, this isn't very feasible for someone who has got a warrant out for his arrest, is it? This time, the numbers are in the hundreds rather than thousands,

but Mr Zaslofsky says there's been an increase in the number of inquiries and arrivals since US President George W. Bush proposed a surge in troops in Iraq. We used to be accustomed to getting maybe a war resister one a month, maybe two a month. Now, it is very common to get two a week. Lee Zaslofsky seems to spend every waking hour

working on the cause of the deserters he so strongly identifies with.

None of them are cowards, none of them hates the United States or wants to betray it in any way. I think they feel betrayed, I think they feel let down,

and I think some of them were deeply revolted by what they saw happening in Iraq or in Afghanistan

and couldn't square it with their idea of what it means to be an American. Most of the deserters have chosen to settle in Toronto, separated from the United States by the icy waters of Lake Ontario.

Canada and the US may be close neighbours, with intertwined economies,

but the deserters feel a long way from home.

People act like that is just an easy decision to leave your country and walk across to another and I have to say it is probably the hardest one I ever made, and I'm sure with the rest of the guys as well. Tonight, the deserters and those who support them are attending the launch of Joshua Key's book. It tells of his seven months in Iraq and why he couldn't go back. After many days - and, of course, it is not like a rash decision you just make - "I am going AWOL." You sure look at the consequences. You sure look at the other routes. I called the JAG officer and he said you got two choices.

He goes, "You either go to prison or go back to Iraq." And I said - I just hung up the phone and looked at my wife and I said, "OK, we gotta make up our own choice." And that choice was to run. Joshua Key made his decision

after what he says were dozens of fruitless raids on Iraqi homes. I am not a baby killer. I am not a civilian killer. You know, of course, I am a soldier and I am here to kill enemy combatants, but I was never seeing that. All I was seeing was civilians getting hurt, getting killed, traumatised, and still no justification for for it. Canada's immigration laws are now much stricter

than they were during the war in Vietnam.

Joshua Key and his family entered the country as visitors, and have applied for refugee status. Along with the 34 other resisters taking the same course, all he can do is wait.

It is comforting to know that more soldiers are coming, and they're coming all the time, you know. So, that reassures... ..that reassures me that, of course, with the more instances,

that, of course, I am not alone. And while Canadian authorities have not exactly welcomed the deserters, they haven't deported them either. Helping the resisters with the legal process in Canada is another man who feels a sense of deja vu - Vietnam draft dodger, now lawyer, Jeffry House. The soldiers are applying for refugee status. They are saying that the war in Iraq violates international law,

therefore, they shouldn't have to fight it and, therefore, any effort to punish them is persecution. You shouldn't have to do something illegal and you shouldn't be jailed because you don't want to do something which is illegal. Back in the US, at the Pentagon, the army takes a very different view.

We do what we are told. We all raised our hand and took an oath to support the constitution of the United States. It is not a soldier's job, it is not a soldier's prerogative to determine which wars he or she will fight, and which wars he or she thinks are illegal. The Pentagon estimates that as many as 8,000 soldiers have deserted

since the Iraq war began - less than 1% of the force. Penalties range from involuntary discharge to death. But the army spokesman is doing his best to play down both the impact of desertion and the punishment. In 94% of the cases, we let them out with less than honourable discharge. That's not to say there isn't somebody at Fort Leavenworth right now serving time for desertion, but the vast majority of the soldiers who desert do not spend time, long periods of time in jail. One of the resisters we spoke to said he was told, "You've got two choices - go back to Iraq or go to jail." I don't think 'go to Iraq, go to jail' were the only two possibilities that this soldier had. The army is not that incompassionate. We understand soldiers are humans, we understand soldiers have problems and we work as hard as we can to solve problems for soldiers if we can.

So far, none of the deserters applications for refugee status have been approved in Canada. The Immigration Department says each case will be assessed on its merits. I believe that Canada will not send them back to jail. I think that Canada itself refused to participate in the Iraq war because Canada thought, correctly, that the war was illegal.

One, two, three, four... Patrick Hart is convinced he'd go to jail in the US, and he's angry. You can hear the anger in his music, and in the words of a song he wrote called 'United Hate of America'. (Both scream distorted lyrics)

It is a great outlet, you know.

Every time I sing it, I am just imagining George Bush in front of me and just screaming in his face. Are you embarrassed at all about what he did? Do you feel that he's not doing his duty, but other soldiers still are? Absolutely not. My husband made a stand and said, "I will not be responsible for deaths of innocent people,"

and how can you not respect that? I served 9.5 years in the army. I was prepared to go and fight and die and I will fight for a just cause - I will fight to defend myself, I won't fight or be a corporate mercenary.

Joshua, do you think much about the guys still in Iraq, who, I am sure, don't necessarily want to be there either? Oh, very much so. I mean, that's my, my... One of my intentions I'd...

They shouldn't be there, you know.

I wish that I could wave a wand and they would all be home, because none of us - I mean, the guys I was with, there was a few wanted to be there, you know. I used to be them - the GI Joe type, - but I would say, for the most part, we are all doing what we are told. We don't want to be there. Soldiers who desert are in violation of their contract. It is a contract not just with the army - it is a contract with the American people. It's a contract with the units they are serving in. The deserters believe that more and more soldiers will break those contracts. Rather than return to Iraq for longer, more frequent deployments,

they will put down their weapons, walk away from their country, and head north to Canada.