War resisters meet at Peace Arch
In 1970, a group of Canadian and American citizens gathered at Peace Arch Park to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard’s shooting of students at two U.S. universities in the event known as the “Blaine Invasion.”
News reports from a May 9, 1970 issue of The Blaine Banner documented the gathering of long-haired peace activists as “anarchists hell-bent on destruction” “foul-mouthed scum,” and “self-proclaimed deserters.” The event made headlines on both sides of the border.
Thirty-six years later, the Peace Arch was once again at the center of international media attention as approximately 300 demonstrators gathered at Peace Arch Park to protest the war in Iraq and show their support for former U.S. soldiers presently seeking refugee status in Canada.
of those soldiers was Kyle Snyder, 22, a U.S. citizen who
is presently seeking refugee status in Canada. Dressed
in his combat uniform, military boots and sporting spiky
black hair, Snyder pleaded with Canadians for their support
in his request for refugee status there.
“I came to Canada knowing I am not going back to Iraq,” he said. “I feel betrayed as a soldier and lied to by the administration.”
A native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Snyder said he joined the military at the age of 19 while in Job Corps in Clearfield, Utah and said he quickly grew disillusioned by the policies of the administration.
The defining moment, he said, was when the military said they would not cover medical expenses of his partner during pregnancy complications because they were not legally married. Snyder said as a result, his child did not survive.
“I wanted a family, I wanted to go to college,” he said. “I lost my child because the military would not pay medical attention to my girlfriend. If I was a Canadian citizen, my child would still be alive.”
Snyder said he is awaiting the decision of a similar case involving Jeremy Hinzman, a 27-year-old member of the 82 Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who deserted his unit in Iraq and fled to Toronto in January of 2004.
Hinzman had originally requested asylum in Canada based on the argument that the war in Iraq is illegal by international standards, but the Immigration and Refugee Board rejected his claim in March of 2005.
The case, however, has since been appealed to a Federal Court of Canada judge, who is scheduled to make a determination as to whether the refugee board should reconsider the case.
Snyder said his hearing is scheduled to take place later this fall in October or November. He’s living legally in Canada as long as the decision on that is pending.
Officials with the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board could not be reached for comment.
Gerry Condon, director of the Project Safe Haven and an organizer with the Veterans for Peace, said of the estimated 200 U.S. service members presently seeking refuge in Canada, approximately 30 have been supported by the organization.
The Pentagon estimates that, since the beginning of the Iraq war, 5,500 service members have deserted their post.
however, said the actual number is likely much higher.
“No one really knows,” he said. “But based on the number of phone calls from lawyers across the country, we estimate the number currently in Canada to be around 200.
“The one thing we do know is that approximately 30 have applied to the Canadian government asking for refugee status.”
Condon said he hopes the media attention will convince the Canadian government to create a sanctuary policy similar to during the Vietnam era, although Canadian immigration policy has tightened considerably since then.
“During the Vietnam war, we could go to Canada as tourists and visitors and just decide to stay and apply for refugee status,” he said. “Right now, if you want to immigrate to Canada, you have to immigrate from outside the country and it can take up to two years, obviously that’s not an option for a soldier on the run.”
Such a policy, however, could be difficult, he said, following the recent election of Stephen Harper, leader of the Canadian conservative party.
“We know the current government
is not going to go out of its way to help U.S. war
resisters unless there is tremendous pressure.”
Either way, Condon said he doesn’t expect a decision until 2007.
“If that decision goes against him, then we will appeal it to the federal court of Canada,” he said. “In the meantime, he’s not in the war in Iraq and he’s not in the U.S. and he’s able to live his life.”