New York Times

Canada Expels an American Deserter From the Iraq War


Published: July 16, 2008


OTTAWA — An American Army deserter who sought refuge in Canada from the war in Iraq was expelled Tuesday to the United States. The deserter, Robin Long, a native of Boise, Idaho, is believed to be the first from the Iraq war returned by the Canadian government.

Mr. Long was expelled a day after the Federal Court of Canada rejected his request to delay his removal order pending further legal appeals.

That decision and Mr. Long’s expulsion were somewhat unexpected. Two other American deserters received Federal Court permission this month to stay in Canada to continue their appeals. Since the Iraq war began in 2003, about 200 people have abandoned the United States military and fled to Canada, according to groups that represent their interests and provide them with support, legally and otherwise.

“This is just one skirmish,” said Bob Ages, the chairman of the Vancouver War Resisters Support Campaign. “Despite the current government strategy of picking on resisters, the tide has turned in our favor both in the legal and political spheres.”

While many Canadians support the deserters’ efforts to remain in Canada, the deserters have not been welcomed as warmly as deserters and draft dodgers were during the war in Vietnam.

Canada has not backed the war in Iraq. But its Conservative government has ignored a nonbinding motion demanding asylum for deserters that was approved in June by Parliament, where Conservatives do not control a majority of the votes.

Changes in Canadian immigration laws since the Vietnam War leave a refugee claim process as the only legal avenue for deserters to remain in Canada. But that process, intended to screen asylum seekers fleeing violence and repression generally from poor and unstable nations, requires several tests that are difficult for deserters from the United States to pass. The federal Immigration Department has swiftly acted against several deserters who have failed in the initial rounds of making claims, including Mr. Long.

Sadia Qureshi, a spokeswoman for Diane Finley, the immigration minister, said agents from the Canada Border Services Agency sent Mr. Long back to the United States from British Columbia, where he had been living, at 9:55 a.m. local time.

Representatives of several Canadian government departments said that privacy laws prohibited them from discussing the specifics of Mr. Long’s case.

John Brent, a spokesman for Stockwell Day, the public safety minister, said by e-mail, “Our government is committed to enforcing removal orders against those persons who are inadmissible to Canada.”

Thomas Schreiber, the chief of United States border protection in Blaine, Wash., said that Mr. Long had been sent to his border crossing rather than the main crossing at the Pacific Highway to avoid a demonstration against the Canadian removal order.

Mr. Schreiber said that immediately after Mr. Long had been handed over he was arrested, adding that he would probably be taken to Fort Lewis, Wash., on Tuesday night.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Maj. Nathan Banks, a spokesman for the United States Army, said that the military had not been told about Mr. Long’s expulsion. But Major Banks said Mr. Long would eventually be returned to Fort Knox, Ky., his home base, for disciplinary procedures.

Major Banks declined to say what punishment Mr. Long faced, but lawyers for deserters in Canada said it could include prison and the equivalent of a felony conviction.

Mr. Long, who is 25, joined the Army in 2003 to become a tank commander and fled to Canada with his partner and two children in 2005.

He was arrested twice on charges of immigration violations in Canada, including not notifying the government that he had moved from a remote part of Ontario to Nelson, British Columbia.

Bill Siksay, a New Democratic member of Parliament from British Columbia who has been involved with deserter issues, dismissed the significance of those charges.

“These were small issue compared to the larger issues of the war in Iraq,” he said. “I’m shocked by this.”