MPs visit deserter in U.S. prison
Published Sunday, March 15, 2009 10:03PM EDT
TORONTO - Two members of Parliament who met Sunday with an Iraq army deserter court-martialed after fleeing to British Columbia hopeful their San Diego prison visit reignites debate about allowing others to take refuge in Canada.
New Democrat Olivia Chow and Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj spent 45 minutes discussing the issues around Robin Long's deportation and learning about his condition behind bars.
Long, 25, who the Toronto MPs call a "war resister," was deported from Canada in July 2008 after fleeing to avoid serving in Iraq -- the first deserter to be sent back to the U.S. by the courts.
"The (incarceration) conditions are acceptable, but what's unacceptable is the fact that this young man, as a consequence of taking a principled stand, is spending 15 months of his life while he's in his 20s in prison," Wrzesnewskyj said from San Diego.
"It coincides with the key formative years of his young Canadian son who's two years old. That's a terrible thing to do to someone."
Long's deportation occurred one month after Chow initiated a motion urging that U.S. military deserters be allowed to stay in Canada.
Parliament passed the nonbinding motion but so far the Conservatives have ignored the directive.
With three more deserters facing the possibility of deportation, Chow plans to re-introduce the motion when Parliament resumes next week.
It comes almost exactly six years after the Iraq war began.
"Hopefully we can debate it again," she said. "And we certainly hope that (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper will not ignore the will of Parliament one more time."
When the two MPs and a representative of the War Resisters Support Campaign entered the barbed wire-enclosed Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar to speak with Long they discovered a young man who continues to hold an unshaken belief in the rightness of his cause, Wrzesnewskyj said.
"There didn't seem to be any hint of anger or vindictiveness, he seems like a well-balanced young man and hopeful," he said.
But there were several issues raised in the meeting that alarmed the group, who now believe Canada's methods in deporting Long may have worsened his prosecution.
Long told them he was driven across the border in handcuffs and not allowed to enter the country and surrender on his own will, which potentially opened him up to more serious charges.
Long also alleged that citizenship and immigration officials had compelled him to hand over original military documents, stating they would be returned.
When instead he later only received copies, he faced charges of handing over military documents to a foreign power.
Finally, Long said that during his trial, a three-inch stack of documents quoting him speaking out against the war and captured by Canadian media were used as evidence against him.
The MPs said they hope details of the meeting give Parliament greater impetus to act, now that three more deserters face potential deportation.
Veteran Kimberly Rivera, in her late 20s, is a mother of three still breastfeeding her newest born, but she could be ordered to leave by March 26.
After her first tour of Iraq, she fled to Canada to avoid future assignments.
"She spoke of her disillusionment when she did her tour of Iraq, when she saw the destruction of property, of homes," Wrzesnewskyj said.
"When she saw the loss of civilian life, when she saw young Iraqi children shell-shocked by what was going on around them, and as she saw them building hatred towards Americans."
Also facing deportation are Jeremy Hinzman and Patrick Hart.