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U.S. deserter faces deportation from Canada

  • Story Highlights
  • Sgt. Corey Glass, 25, says he fled to Canada to avoid fighting "illegal" war in Iraq
  • National Guardsman is facing a June 12 deportation order
  • Canada's refugee agency rules that Glass won't face persecution if he returns
  • Canada's high court has rejected all five cases that it has heard from deserters
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By Emanuella Grinberg
CNN
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(CNN) -- A U.S. soldier who deserted to Canada will not face persecution if he returns to the United States, Canada's refugee agency ruled Wednesday.

National Guard Sgt. Corey Glass, 25, says he fled to Toronto in 2006 after serving in Iraq because he did not want to fight in a war he did not support.

"What I saw in Iraq convinced me that the war is illegal and immoral. I could not in good conscience continue to take part in it," Glass said Wednesday. "I don't think it's fair that I should be punished for doing what I felt morally obligated to do."

Glass, who's still on active duty and is considered absent without leave, applied for refugee status at the Canadian border in August 2006 on the grounds of objection to military service.

But Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board denied his application for refugee status Wednesday, prompting the Canadian Border Services Agency to issue a June 12 deportation order.

The agency says it evaluates each case on its own merits to determine whether the applicant faces a "well-founded fear" of persecution or cruel and unusual punishment if he returns to his home country.

"All refugee claimants have a right to due process," said Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Customs and Immigrations Canada. "When they have exhausted all legal avenues, we expect them to respect our laws and leave the country."

Glass, of Fairmont, Indiana, says he joined the National Guard believing that he would be deployed only if the United States faced occupation. After he returned from his first tour of duty, he said, he tried to leave the Army but was told that desertion was punishable by death.

Penalties for desertion range from a demotion in rank to a maximum penalty of death, depending on the circumstances, said Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman.

"The first thing we try to do is rehabilitate and retrain the soldier to see if we can keep him," he said. "Remember, we're at war, so everybody counts. When you decide to desert, you let everybody down."

Banks said that it is up to the deserter's commanding officer to decide on an appropriate punishment if the soldier refuses to return.

Members of War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, which is providing transitional support to Glass and at least 13 other deserters in Canada, are holding out for a political avenue of appeal through the Canadian House of Commons.

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In December, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the Canadian government to initiate a residency program for conscientious objectors who have left military service "related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations."

The motion has yet to receive approval from the entire House of Commons.

Norris says the agency has received about 40 applications for refugee claims from U.S. deserters since the Iraq war began in 2003. Of the claims that have been addressed in public, only five have made it to the country's Federal Court of Appeals, a venue of last resort.

All five appeals were rejected, according to Norris.

The high court has yet to rule on its sixth challenge of this kind from Army combat engineer Joshua Key, who fled to Saskatchewan with his wife and four children in 2005.

"This has been our home for three years now. It's a lot like the U.S., and it's as close to the U.S. as you can be," said Key, who served on the front lines in Falluja before he returned to the United States in 2002.

Key said that fleeing to Canada was a difficult but obvious choice when faced with returning to Iraq.

"There was nothing but violence and innocent civilians dying in our hands for no justification," Key said. "We became the terrorists."

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