Corey Glass is quite comfortably settled in Canada. The Indiana-born 25-year-old lives in Toronto and works transporting remains to funeral homes. He would like to stay and live his life here, but Glass’ days in Canada are numbered. He is absent without leave from the United States army and the Canadian government has refused his request for refugee status. His deportation date is July 10.
Glass is one of an estimated 200 U.S. war resisters living in Canada according to the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign. The 199 men and one woman, who come from throughout the U.S. and represent many branches of armed forces, are united in their opposition and refusal to participate in the war in Iraq. Glass’ revelation came during a short vacation from his training in Germany. In the city of Nuremburg, he learned of the historic trials of Nazi war criminals. “It just dawned on me that I might be committing heinous war crimes just following orders, and that’s not an excuse.”
In the 60s, the Vietnam War saw an exodus of draft dodgers head north. Times have changed since then, and now fleeing soldiers must apply for refugee status. The burden of proof is whether the jail time deported resisters face constitutes “persecution” under Canadian law. So far, in the cases of Glass and other resisters, officials have ruled in the negative.
Supporters of the war resisters argue that the UN’s Handbook on Refugees protects them if the war “is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct.,” They say the war in Iraq, considered illegal by the UN and protested worldwide, more than fits the bill.
Another area of contention is that the U.S. has abolished the draft, which means all members of the armed forces are technically volunteers. As the resisters tell it, the story is a little more complicated. For some of the poorest Americans, military service is the best-paying job available. This was the case for Kim Rivera, who struggled to make ends meet, raising two children on a Wal-Mart salary. “The Army told me I wouldn’t be sent into combat, but once I got to Iraq I was under enemy fire every day,” Rivera said. Glass and others also related experiences with less-than-honest recruiters trying to fill quotas. In addition, many soldiers are being called back as part of “Stop Loss” measures, causing them to serve extra terms of duty.
There is hope on the horizon as parliament recently passed a motion that would give resisters an opportunity to apply for status as landed residents. Spearheaded by Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow, it would also halt any deportation orders. But the motion still has to be approved by Stephen Harper and his Conservative cabinet. Glass said he hoped public pressure would sway the decision: “It’s all up to Canadian citizens at this point.”