How the Canadian Government Deported an
Iraq War Resister to Prison in the U.S.
The Fourth of July, 2008, was a momentous day for U.S. war resisters in Canada. While their families in the U.S. were celebrating the Independence Day holiday, Iraq war resisters won an important legal victory – their first since they began arriving in Canada four-and-half years ago. A Federal Court ruled that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had wrongfully denied refugee status to Joshua Key, an Iraq veteran from Guthrie, Oklahoma. Key arrived in Canada four years ago with his wife and four children after deciding he could not return to the war.
While in Iraq, Joshua Key had participated in nearly 100 home invasions. As an Army engineer, Key’s job was to blow down the front doors of family homes with plastic explosives so that heavily armed soldiers could rush inside. In his best-selling book, The Deserter’s Tale, Joshua Key provides a detailed look at these home invasions. He also told the Refugee Board how U.S. soldiers would terrorize Iraqi families in these middle-of-the-night raids. The extremely loud explosions would shock the families out of their sleep. Terror-stricken women and children would watch in horror as all the family’s males who appeared 15 years or older were arrested and trucked off to uncertain fates in U.S. Army prisons. Soldiers then ransacked the homes and looted the families’ valuables.
Canadian Judge Rules U.S. Army’s Home Invasions Violate Geneva Conventions
Federal Court Justice Robert Barnes ruled that these raids were probable violations of the Geneva Conventions against the abuse of civilians during wartime. The Refugee Board was wrong, said Judge Barnes, to deny Joshua Key refugee status on the narrow grounds that the home invasions did not fit the legal definition of war crimes.
Military action that "systematically degrades, abuses or humiliates" either combatants or noncombatants should be taken into consideration in refugee claims, Barnes wrote. He ordered the Refugee Board to re-hear Joshua Key’s claim for refugee status in Canada.
"It's quite a statement," Key said. "It makes us feel good — probably everybody within this whole process."
Court Ruling May Help U.S. War Resisters in Canada
In turning down similar asylum claims, the Refugee Board has consistently held that the United States is a democracy, which affords absentee soldiers due process. However, the Court said that the board should hear evidence on whether deserters can rely on the American government to treat them fairly.
Key's lawyer, Jeffry House, said the ruling may help the cases others refugee claimants, particularly those who are veterans of the war in Iraq. "It's a huge victory for numerous soldiers who are here and maybe others who are thinking of coming here," House said.
About two hundred U.S. war resisters are estimated to be in Canada. Many of them remain “under the radar,” as do thousands of AWOL GI’s in the U.S. Nearly fifty war resisters are seeking to remain in Canada as refugees who would be persecuted for their political beliefs if returned to the United States.
Not All Was Well on the Fourth of July
While the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto was celebrating the good news on the Fourth of July, something ominous was occurring over two thousand miles away in Canada’s westernmost province. In the idyllic little town of Nelson, nestled in the Kootenay Mountains of southeastern British Columbia, Canadian immigration police were arresting Robin Long, another U.S. war resister. Agents of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) claimed that Long, a refugee claimant, had violated Canadian immigration laws by failing to report his change of address. Nelson police and the CBSA knew well that Robin Long was living in Nelson, where he had no fixed address, but was “couch surfing” at the homes of friends. The Immigration police told Long that he had been ordered deported. He would not be allowed to appeal.
Canadian Police Acted Illegally in Arresting War Resister
The rationale for Long’s arrest was suspect, as was its timing. Several recent Canadian polls had revealed that almost two-thirds of Canadians want U.S. war resisters to enjoy a safe haven in Canada. And on June 3rd, Canada’s House of Commons had passed a motion calling on the government to halt all deportation proceedings and allow war resisters to immigrate. Unfortunately, however, the motion was not legally binding, and the Conservative government seemed determined to defy the will of the Canadian people and Parliament.
The vote in the House of Commons was precipitated by a crisis, and the Iraq War resisters struggle to remain in Canada was coming to a head. Corey Glass, a veteran of the war in Iraq, had been ordered to leave Canada by July 10 or face deportation. War resisters and their supporters organized protest actions throughout Canada and the U.S. The War Resisters Support Campaign was able to claim a temporary victory on July 9 when a Federal Court granted Corey Glass a stay of his deportation in order to consider his request to appeal negative decisions against him. The Federal Court of Canada has since granted him “leave to appeal.”
One in the Hand Is Better than Two in the Bush
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who argued fruitlessly five years ago that Canada should join George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, was eager to deliver the first deportation of an Iraq War resister. The order to arrest Robin Long came from the top. It was Harper’s insurance policy. If he couldn’t deport Glass, he would deport Long.
While the Canada Border Services Agency shuttled Robin Long from one prison to another, keeping him isolated from friends and supporters, a last-ditch attempt to stop his deportation was mounted by Vancouver lawyer, Shepherd Moss. A hearing was scheduled in Federal Court in Vancouver for Monday morning, July 14. But Robin Long’s luck ran out when his case was assigned to Judge Anne McTavish, the author of damaging decisions against Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, the first two GIs to seek refugee status in Canada.
Canadian authorities had failed to inform Long of his pending deportation, thus denying him his right to appeal. But Judge McTavish refused to delay Long's deportation. The legal reasons for Corey Glass’s were not yet published and could potentially apply to Long. Such was the rush to deport a war resister, however, that Judge McTavish was willing to risk having opposing court decisions on the same issue, within a one week period.
“Here, we’ve got a deserter for you.”
Robin Long was not allowed to attend his own hearing and he was not informed of its outcome. Instead, on the morning of Tuesday, July 15, Canadian immigration police drove him to Canada’s border with the U.S. near Blaine, Washington, and loudly announced to their U.S. counterparts, “Here, we’ve got a deserter for you.”
Stephen Harper and the Bush Administration got what they wanted, international headlines trumpeting, “Canada Deports U.S. Deserter.”
The Canadian people learned about the deportation of Robin Long from sketchy media reports. The Canada Border Services Agency, citing “the Privacy Act,” refused to give the media any details. How was the deportation carried out? Where did it occur? Who handed Robin Long over to whom? Where was Long held in Canada? Where was he being held in the U.S.?
The Privacy Act, enacted to protect the privacy of individuals, was abused by the Conservative government in order to isolate Robin Long and keep Canadians in the dark. Why didn’t the Conservative government want Canadians to know the details of this deportation? The word “deportation” connotes an unfortunate but orderly and lawful procedure. What Canadian and U.S. authorities did to Robin Long was more like a “rendition,” an extralegal government-to-government kidnapping supposedly reserved for terror suspects. Canadians will be outraged when they hear the truth.
War Resister Assaulted and Threatened in Canadian Jails
Robin Long was arrested unlawfully on false grounds and for political reasons. He was held incommunicado. Over a ten-day period, he was transferred to three different Canadian jails. In the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre, Long was assaulted twice by a group of prisoners who objected to his dreadlock hairstyle. Although he is short and slight, Long was able to fight off his attackers once, and a guard halted the second assault. But Long decided to cut his hair.
In the North Frasier Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, Long was forced to share a double-bunk with a violent murder suspect. After lying down in the top bunk, Long felt a sharp punch through the mattress. And he heard an angry voice below, “You better not fuckin’ sleep or I’ll fuckin’ slit your throat!” Long did not sleep that night. This is what happened in Canada to a nonviolent opponent of the U.S. war in Iraq.
After CBSA police rudely turned him over at the border, U.S. authorities confined Long in a makeshift cell for six hours without access to food, water or toilet. He was then transferred to the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, a 30-minute drive south into Washington State. Long’s friends and supporters tried desperately to learn of his whereabouts. Only by calling around to all the jails in the region did the War Resisters Support Campaign manage to locate him.
Upon learning that a war resister was jailed in their town, Bellingham peace activists went into action. The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center called for an evening vigil, along with Sanctuary City, a student-led effort to welcome war resisters to Bellingham. Instead of waiting for the evening vigil, some supporters headed straight to the jail. That afternoon Long was transferred again, before the scheduled vigil. But as he was being driven away from the jail, he spotted two people holding signs reading, “Free Robin Long,” and “Support War Resisters.” This was Long’s first indication that any supporters knew where he was. His spirits were lifted considerably.
Civilian police from Fort Lewis delivered Long to a jail in the tiny town of Buckley near Mt. Rainier. Under contract with Fort Lewis, the Buckley jail was holding several Army prisoners. Some were awaiting court martial on a variety of charges. One was serving a sentence for being AWOL. The Fort Lewis brig was closed down. Apparently, all the soldiers trained as prison guards are needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Robin Long Looked Like a Prisoner at Guantanamo
With the help of attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild, this writer, an advocate for war resisters, was able to track Robin Long to the Buckley jail and arrange to see him. Long was brought out wearing an orange jumpsuit, not uncommon in U.S. jails, yet reminiscent of images from Guantanamo. Indeed, Robin Long was now a prisoner in George Bush’s “war on terror.”
We were the first visitors Robin Long had seen during his incarceration and abuse in six different jails in Canada and the U.S. He appeared frightened at first. We had not met before and he did not know what to expect. When he realized we were friends, Robin Long breathed a huge sigh of relief. For the first time in two weeks, he was able to let down his guard and show some emotion.
We visited with Robin Long for one hour in a cramped jail cell. He told us of the abuse he had suffered in Canadian jails and after his deportation to the U.S. Long knew he was headed for prison. But he told us he had no regrets – he would do it all over again if he had to. He was clear and strong in his opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. He was very happy when we gave him a copy of Joshua Key’s book, The Deserter’s Tale. He had been eager to read it, he said.
Robin Long’s primary concern was his relationship with his two-year-old son in Canada. The parting shot of CBSA police at the border had been: “You will not be allowed to return to Canada for ten years, and then only with special permission.” The thought of being separated indefinitely from his son hurt him a lot.
Long had been a vegetarian for long time. But he was forced to eat meat (or nothing) in both Canadian and U.S. jails. Vegetarian meals are provided only to prisoners who require them for religious or medical reasons, not to vegetarians-by-choice. The sudden change in Long’s diet left him constipated until, finally, a Buckley jailer got a laxative for him. Long said he and his fellow prisoners were receiving less than 1000 calories of food per day. He asked us to bring him apples, bananas and vitamin C when we returned the next day.
But before his visitors could with fruit, Long was transferred yet again. This time he was headed to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he would be court-martialed for desertion. Fort Carson, like Fort Lewis, was contracting out its incarceration function. So, on Friday, July 18, two weeks after his arrest in Nelson, British Columbia, Long arrived at his seventh jail, the notorious El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs.
The Swift Injustice of the U.S. Army
The Army moved with uncharacteristic speed to court martial Robin Long. Army prosecutors threatened Long with a three-year jail sentence if he did not make their job easy by pleading guilty to desertion. Convinced the Army’s threats were for real, Long and his lawyer, James Branum, decided to accept the plea bargain. In exchange for his guilty plea, Long would be imprisoned for no more than fifteen months, hopefully less. The court martial was scheduled for Friday, August 22.
The court martial was packed with Long’s supporters, including members from Iraq Veterans Against the War
Army prosecutors played a taped interview of Robin Long expressing his antiwar views in Canada. Because Long had already pled guilty to desertion, there was no need to prove his intent. The prosecutors introduced Long’s public statements so that he would receive a substantial sentence, arguing that Long had "abandoned his duty, his honor and his country."
The presiding military judge, Col. Debra Boudreau, was sufficiently impressed. She sentenced Long to thirty months in prison and a Dishonorable Discharge, and expressed her disappointment that the plea bargain would limit him to serving only fifteen months.
When Long stepped out of the courtroom, he was who cheered on loudly, even while military police pushed his supporters across the street.
“It sets a very chilling precedent –
“I think it was a long sentence but it was positive that he got his day in court and got to speak up and say what he believed,” said Long’s lawyer, James Branum. “His spirits were relatively good. Having two war resisters show up at his trial meant a lot to him.”
Matthis Chiroux, an Army journalist who refused orders to re-deploy to Iraq, testified on Long’s behalf, as did Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel who resigned from her State Department job in 2003 to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Col. Wright expressed her disappointment at the steep verdict. “It sets a very chilling precedent that someone who is brought back gets the book thrown at them. I hope the Canadian government recognizes that.”
Robin Long Talks with Courage To Resist
After the court martial, Long taped a telephone interview with activists at Courage To Resist, which had rallied support for him and raised money for his legal expenses.
“All in all on the day of the trial, I had a very good day. I got to tell the Army and the world exactly as I felt. With my defense case – the testimony of Col. Ann Wright and the other witnesses – we basically got a say to a forum and an audience that normally wouldn’t hear the things we were saying – about the illegality of the war in Iraq and following your conscience and international law, a higher duty…. It felt really good to say those things and to let people know that they can say those things and follow their heart.
“I enjoyed all the support that was there – all of the people who came to see. It was kind of funny, when I was leaving they rushed me into a humvee. They had the military police escort in front and behind. They stopped traffic at all the intersections. And when I was leaving, a lot of the supporters were saluting me – that felt really good.
“I’m glad that it’s me, and not somebody else.”
Long told Courage To Resist that he is prepared for prison. “I’m thankful that in my life, the things I’ve chosen to do, I got the tools and the training to have inner peace. I’m thankful that it’s me and not somebody ewho wouldn’t have those tools to be in this position – I’m thankful that it’s me and not somebody else. I can do my time – live every day one day at a time.
“When I come out, I’ll start speaking for peace again and my words will be that much more powerful. I can talk now in the States… Hopefully, we can end this occupation – this war.”
But he was distressed about not being a able to see his friends and family in Canada. "I have a son I won't be able to see. It's kind of hard to think about that.”
Long reported having received nearly 300 letters “from all over the U.S., from Canada, from Great from Britain, from Germany, from South Africa, from Australia, from New Zealand, from the Philipines, and from Switzerland.”
Col. Ann Wright believes the outcome of the court martial would have been far worse if Long had not received such overwhelming support. “Once soldiers are returned to military control, it is in the best interest of everyone if there is support for war resisters.”
War Resisters Are Persecuted for Speaking Their Beliefs
Long’s fifteen-month jail sentence is the longest yet for a GI who went AWOL during the Iraq War. But it is identical to the 2005 sentence of Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year veteran who refused to deploy to Iraq and spoke publicly against the war.
Once they are captured or turn themselves in, most AWOL GIs are either: 1) re-integrated into their units and prepared to go to war, 2) given less-than-honorable discharges “for the good of the service,” or 3) given jail sentences of no more than a few months. But those who have publicly opposed the war, like the war resisters in Canada, have been much more likely to be court-martialed and given long prison sentences.
As Col. Ann Wright wrote recently for Truthout, even soldiers who have been convicted in the pre-medicated murder of civilians in Iraq are not punished as severely as outspoken war resisters:
On September 18, 2008, the US Army sentenced Specialist Belmor Ramos to seven months in prison, demotion to private and a dishonorable discharge for standing guard from a turret in a Humvee while three others in his unit, the First Infantry Division, bound, blindfolded, shot in the heads and dumped the bodies of four unidentified Iraqi men into a Baghdad canal … in retaliation for deaths in Ramos' unit. According to Associated Press reports, during the court-martial, Ramos admitted his guilt: "I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification or excuse to do this."
Dishonorable Discharge: A Life Sentence of Discrimination
The Dishonorable discharges that have been given to Robin Long, Kevin Benderman, Camilo Mejia and other war resisters are equivalent to felony convictions, and normally reserved for serious crimes. A Dishonorable discharge is a life sentence to discrimination in employment and many other areas of life. As with many countries, Canada bars entry to convicted felons, including veterans with Dishonorable discharges. Robin Long may never be allowed to visit his son in Canada. This will be his ongoing punishment for refusing to join in the aggressive U.S. war against the people of Iraq.
Canada’s Refugee Board members and Federal Court judges have erred seriously in determining that war resisters do not face persecution in the U.S. They are equally wrong when they assume that the U.S. military and judicial system will deal fairly with those who declare themselves to be Conscientious Objectors. Aside from being pressured by superior officers, Conscientious Objector applicants report being harassed, beaten and even sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers.
“Please don’t call me a Conscientious Objector,” said Jimmy Massey, a former Marine recruiter and Iraq veteran who came to oppose the war. “In the Marines, that’s like a death sentence.”
Next in Harper’s Sights: Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart and Families
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government are now training their fire on Jeremy Hinzman, the first Iraq War resister to seek refugee status in Canada. Private Hinzman, his wife Nga Nguyen, and their 1-year-old son Liam arrived in Toronto in January 2004 after his 82nd Airborne unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina was ordered to Iraq. Hinzman, a veteran of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, had offered to go to war in a non-combat role. But the Army staged a heavily biased hearing in the Afghanistan war zone, and wrongfully denied Hinzman’s request for Conscientious Objector status.
Hinzman’s wife recently gave birth to a baby girl, Meghan, who by virtue of being born in Canada, is a Canadian citizen. Liam Hinzman, now 6-years-old, knows only Canada, where he has lived since he was one. But Hinzman and his entire family were ordered to leave Canada by September 23 or face deportation.
Last Minute Reprieve for Jeremy Hinzman
One day before his government-imposed deadline for departing from Canada, Jeremy Hinzman received a reprieve. A Federal Court judge ruled he would face irreparable harm if he were deported before the Court was able to consider his request to appeal. But Hinzman’s situation remains dire, along with at least eight other Iraq War resisters in Canada.
Robin Long and Jeremy Hinzman have one thing in common: because they would not kill other human beings in what is clearly an imperialist war, they are being treated like criminals. Robin Long’s treatment at the hands of the Canadian and U.S. authorities should make it clear that war resisters are indeed being persecuted because of their political and religious beliefs.
If Canadian authorities deport Jeremy Hinzman, he will also be court-martialed and convicted of desertion. He will be taken away from his wife, Nga, and his young children, Liam and Meghan, to serve a lengthy prison sentence.
Iraq Veteran Ordered To Leave Canada by October 30
On Wednesday, October 8, former Sgt. Patrick Hart was told that he and his family will be deported to the U.S. if they do not leave Canada by October 30. Hart, who served nine years in the U.S. Army and took part in the invasion of Iraq, moved to Canada in 2005 with his wife, Jill, and son Rian. On the verge of another deployment to Iraq, he decided that he could not continue to take part in “an illegal and unwarranted military occupation.”
According to Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign, Hart is asking officials to defer his deportation until January 1. “He’s got a son in Grade 1 who just started school,” Robidoux told the Toronto Star. “He wants him to finish the term.”
Several other war resisters in line to be deported are also parents. One of them, Kimberly Rivera, is the mother of two young children. Must these children be denied the loving presence of their mothers and fathers? Must they suffer because their parents refused to commit murder? What is wrong with this picture?
Will Federal Election Help War Resisters?
Stephen Harper does not seem concerned. Not about ignoring the wishes of two-thirds of Canadians and defying the will of Parliament. Not about taking fathers and mothers away from young children. Not about treating conscientious objectors like criminals.
Harper must be feeling downright cocky. He has dissolved the Parliament and called a Federal election. He must think that Canadians are not paying attention. But when they cast their votes on October 14, may they remember Harper’s shameful treatment of Iraq War resisters. Indeed, many Canadians believe it is time for the Harper government, like the Bush Administration it emulates, to exit stage right.
At the outset of the five-week national campaign, Harper’s Conservatives were polling fairly well against a divided opposition, and were hoping to return to power with a majority government. But in the final days before the election, Conservative support was being sapped by Canadian concerns about the worldwide economic crisis.
Regardless of who forms the next Canadian government, the legal and political struggle for sanctuary for war resisters will continue. But war resisters will certainly fare better if Harper and his Conservatives are ousted from power. It is Stephen Harper who is responsible for the extraordinary rendition of Robin Long. And it is Stephen Harper who seems determined to deport Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, and Kimberly Rivera.
“I feel as if I was a pawn, a gift from one regime to another (Harper to Bush).”
Robin Long Writes from Prison
For my Canadian friends, and people I don’t know: Stop this! Fight this! Don’t let another conscientious objector, war resister, person of conscience and morals to be deported.
For my fellow Americans: Keep courageously driving on to stop this war and undo the mess that the last 8 years of Bush has brought to our great country. I have received many letters of support. We are strong! We can be an example. We can spread the word and mobilize and protest the atrocities.
Peace love light
Robin’s favorite quotes:
“A soldier is just a uniform following orders. A warrior is a person who stands up for what is right even in the face of adversity.”
“Those that can get you to believe absurdities, can get you to commit atrocities!” - Voltaire
Write to Robin at
Courage To Resist will print and mail your message to Robin. If you wish to correspond with Robin directly, include your mailing address and ask him to add you to his "approved mail list". You can also contribute to Robin's brig account that he uses to pay for phone calls to friends and family.