PATRICK HART, 35 - Refusenik

Courage To Resist, June 18th 2009

HOMETOWN: New Bedford, Massachusetts
ARRIVED: August 20, 2005
STATUS: Refugee application denied, deportation order postponed

I decided to join the army in 1992, after graduating from high school by the skin of my teeth. I served for three years in Germany as a warehouse guy, operating a forklift. I left at the end of that tour, thinking that with my military record I’d be able to get a job. I made tacos, did construction work and got laid off from a job at a steel factory. I married my wife, Jill, in March 2000 and rejoined the army that year because I needed an income to start a family. For the first three years, I worked in the motor pool at my base in Fort Riley, Kansas, and it was nine-to-five, pretty relaxed. My son, Rian, was born in 2002, and a year later I was sent to Kuwait to do maintenance on all the trucks and machines.

Image credit: Derek Shapton
There was a lot of just sitting around, shooting the shit. When we found out there were no weapons of mass destruction, I felt like I was putting my life on the line for nothing. I returned to the U.S. in March 2004 and told Jill that I wanted to leave the army, but she convinced me to stay for the health care, since our son has epilepsy. We argued about it a lot, but I couldn’t convince her, and I decided to leave without telling her. I knew that if I’d told her I was deserting, she would have turned me in and I would have gone to jail.

I left for Canada in August 2005; my parents drove me over the border. We told the border guard we were going to the CNE. When the army found out I had left, they sent military police to look for me at our home on the base. They ransacked the place in the middle of the night, looking for signs I was still living there. They went into Rian’s room and turned the light on and dumped all the dresser drawers out on the floor. They scared Jill pretty badly. I think she realized then that they were the bad guys, and she and Rian joined me in Canada a month later. We moved into a co-op near the lake. When I first arrived, I worked for a while at Lula Lounge running food and helping out at the bar, but my work permit ended. I keep busy by playing in a Misfits tribute band; we sometimes perform at the Bovine and the Rivoli.

When you apply for refugee status, you have to meet with a border services agent who asks if you’ll leave if you’re ordered deported. My lawyer told me that if you waver, if it seems like you are lying, or if you’re dumb enough to say no, they take you into custody at that moment and keep you in a hotel room near the office. So I said yes. My mother and father always say, “We’d rather visit you in Canada than at the cemetery.”

My wife once asked my commanding officer what happens to soldiers who go AWOL. He said, “We put them on guard duty in Iraq with no ammo in their weapon, no plates in their bulletproof jacket, and just see what happens.”