To Corey Glass, Pierre Trudeau’s Vietnam-era proclamation that “Canada should be a refuge from militarism” must ring a little hollow in 2008. Two summers ago, the 25-year-old Iraq War veteran left his post with the U.S. Army, resisting re-deployment to the catastrophic five-year occupation. Since August of 2006, Mr. Glass, like others seeking refugee status, has been a resident of Toronto, calling the Parkdale community home. This week, with his bags packed and ready, Glass was “shocked” to learn that his deportation order—due to expire today—was stayed, granting him temporary refuge in Canada.
Last month, the federal government stated that it would ignore a June 3 motion of Parliament in which opposition MPs voted 137 to 110 to allow conscientious objectors—a designation disputed by the Immigration and Refugee Board—to remain in Canada. In response, Parkdale residents and the War Resisters Support Campaign organized an ongoing series of public rallies and panel discussions (the photos for this article were taken at last Thursday’s emergency rally), outing the hawkish, pro-U.S. policies of Harper’s minority government as a democratic failure. “It’s frustrating as a Parliamentarian,” Parkdale–High Park MP Peggy Nash told Torontoist, “to see our Prime Minister take his cue from George Bush and the Americans, rather than Canadian Parliamentarians who are representing the interests of Canadians.” With two-thirds of the country in support of granting permanent residency to Iraq War resisters, Harper’s intransigence, to Glass’s supporters, borders on absurd. “I think the government is making the wrong decision,” Nash continues. “There’s an opportunity for them to correct this, and I’m hoping that with enough public pressure, they will see reason and rescind the [July 10] deportation order.”
At the last minute, Mr. Glass was granted a temporary reprieve while his legal battle unfolds, a process that could take months. And while a recent ABC News report suggested that Glass was discharged from the California National Guard on December 1, 2006—four months after his arrival in Canada—the former Sergeant disagrees, saying that the U.S. news goliath had phoned in its homework.
“The guy from ABC News called to tell me what he’d found out from the military,” Mr. Glass told us, “and they had to have the story published before I had time to talk to a military lawyer in the States to find out what this actually entailed.” The July 2 report quoted Major Nathan Banks, a spokesman for the U.S. Army, as saying, “He is not considered absent without leave. He is not considered a deserter.” Claiming the issue to be overblown, Maj. Banks states that “He is fully welcome in the United States. I cannot believe this is a big deal in Canada.” Mr. Glass, however, isn’t so confident. “They didn’t get the whole story, really,” he says, “which is that I’m still liable for everything, and that I’m even more likely to go back to Iraq now than I ever was before, without the desertion. I haven’t been given a formal discharge; I don’t have a DD form 214.”
The difference between today and the Vietnam War, critics assert, is that the fifty thousand-or-so draft dodgers of the Trudeau era were fleeing conscription, while war resisters—according to ABC News—are seen as “volunteers unwilling to fulfill their promise to the military and [are] undeserving of refugee status.” In this case, however, Mr. Glass and others are resisting redeployment under stop-loss, the so-called “back door draft” that involuntarily extends active service for veterans beyond their tours of duty. “My MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) typically gets stop-lossed because of the nature of the job that I was trained to do,” Glass says. “And we get stop-lossed a lot.”
Glass enlisted on July 30, 2002. “I signed up for the Indiana National Guard,” he says, “and my recruiter told me that I’d be there to help during floods, hurricanes, tornadoes—Indiana has a lot of tornadoes—and so I thought, yeah, I’d like to help out with that.” With the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, however, the resulting strain on personnel mobilized the U.S. National Guard alongside regular forces, an outcome Glass and others didn’t expect. “[My recruiter] said the only way I’d go to war is if there were troops trying to overrun America in America. We’d been in Afghanistan at that point; we hadn’t invaded Iraq yet.” Upon asking whether he would be sent to fight a war on foreign shores, Glass was assured by his superiors that he’d be safe. “That’s why I did it,” he says. “If I wanted to go fight in a war, I would have joined the regular Army.”
While the federal courts have backed off somewhat, amnesty for Corey Glass and his fellow veterans is by no means assured. Grassroots efforts in both Canada and the United States continue, aggressively petitioning the Canadian government to allow “deserters” to remain in their adopted homes.
Looking ahead to the U.S. election in November, Mr. Glass is hopeful. “I hope Obama gets in and pulls the troops out of Iraq,” he says. “Maybe then they’ll start admitting the war was wrong in the first place. I mean, this is my home now.” He pauses, a pensive shadow crossing his features. “We don’t want to go to jail for deserting an illegal war and, as we see it, upholding the Nuremberg Principles. There’s due process in America, but it’s biased.”
All photos by Miles Storey.