Deserters of the 21st Century

Things have changed in 40 years. While It is estimated during the Vietnam War 50,000 males of service age took refuge in Canada to avoid U.S. military service, since 2003, it appears just 200 have taken the road across the northern border, though exact numbers are difficult.

Another difference: This time, Canada has little interest in playing host.

At a time when Canada and the United States are allies in arms, fighting and dying together in the far reaches of Afghanistan, a few U.S. service members are saying, “Hell no” to another tour. Canada is saying, “Yankee go home.”

With tightened immigration policies, it has been reported our northern neighbor has turned down U.S. citizens seeking refugee status. According to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney “being a deserter from voluntary military service in a democracy does not, in any way, meet the … definition of a refugee.”

Canadian policy calls for deportation of such individuals within one year, pushing fleeing Americans underground. But they are not alone. Some of the estimated 25,000 Vietnam-era draft dodgers and deserters still in Canada have been assisting this latest wave of lawless immigration.

The War Resisters Support Campaign helps dodgers and deserters with legal challenges. The group’s founder, Phil McDowell, had completed his active duty Army commitment following a tour in Iraq, but was ordered back to Iraq under the now-defunct Stop-Loss program. He declined the offer and ran.

As during Vietnam, deserters question the legality of the current conflict. The answer is clear and neither Canadian nor U.S. courts are buying the argument. Some who have returned to the states have been prosecuted and are serving their sentences.

As reported by USA Today “Since the Iraq war began in 2003, the Army has convicted 693 soldiers of desertion and 2,657 of being absent without leave. From fiscal 2003 through 2008, the Marine Corps had 6,448 deserters. From fiscal 2003 through March 29 the Air Force had 260 deserters. From 2003 through the end of March, 9,869 people deserted from the Navy.” (Did you catch that Air Force figure?)

While the reasons for the desertions are not noted, a 2007 study reported a significant increase in desertions since 2003.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft resisters but no such leniency was shown deserters.

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