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No Luck For US Military Deserters Seeking Refuge In Canada

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Canada used to have the reputation as a safe haven for U.S. military deserters during the Vietnam War, but that reputation no longer seems to hold.

Some deserters, like Army Sgt. Patrick Hart, have found out the hard way, The Associated Press reports.

For five years, Hart tried to fight the immigration system in Canada to no avail after refusing to serve in the Iraq war in 2005. It’s not just Hart who’s experiencing a particularly difficult time. According to advocates who support deserters protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a single successful case of legal immigration into Canada in the past decade, regardless of category. Neither humanitarian nor refugee status claims have passed muster with Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

“Military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Nancy Caron said in a statement to The Associated Press. “These unfounded claims clog up our system for genuine refugees who are actually fleeing persecution.”

Hart finally turned himself in to the U.S. Army and received a two-year sentence. He thinks that part of the reason his claims were denied was because he was a vocal opponent of the war, even while in Canada.

“We had kind of run the course of legal action to stay there, so we were pretty much just sitting there waiting for a deportation order to come down,” Hart told The Associated Press. In 2013, Hart was released from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Three other soldiers have returned to the U.S., only to be sentenced to prison.

In 2013, Pfc. Kim Rivera was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Back in 2009, Spc. Clifford Cornell was given a one-year sentence. And finally, in 2008, Pfc. Robin Long went to prison for 15 months.

According to Army statistics, there have been approximately 20,000 desertions since 2006, but from 2001 up until now, the Army hasn’t bothered with very many prosecutions—just 1,900 in total. Wrongdoing is usually trivial to prove, but lawyers often take into account circumstances such as PTSD.

In one of the more famous cases, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who became a prisoner of the Taliban after he abandoned his unit in Afghanistan, was charged with one count of desertion in late March and could face a dishonorable discharge from the military. He does not, however, face the death penalty.

Advocates are waiting for the results of Canada’s national election in the next few months to see if there’s any indication immigration policy may change.

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