Gimme Shelter: U.S. Military Deserters Once Again Flock to Canada to Avoid Iraq War 

Looks like this time they picked the wrong country

Wednesday, Mar 11 2009

Page 4 of 9

On this overcast afternoon, Zaslofsky, a mustachioed 60-something with bright blue eyes and thinning brown hair, sits at his desk, typing furiously. The wall behind him is papered with posters. One, an image of a soldier with his back turned, reads, “Stop the deportations now” and “War resisters welcome here.” Another advises, “Cut and run. In an immoral war, it’s the thing to do.” Amid the fliers are several photographs. One shows Jeremy Hinzman, a paratrooper from South Dakota, who served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. In 2004, after eight months in Afghanistan and with orders to deploy to Iraq, Hinzman fled north with his wife and 1-year-old son to become the first deserter of his generation to seek political refuge in Canada. Nearby is a picture of Joshua Key, a welder and father of four from Oklahoma, who served seven months in Iraq with the 43rd Combat Engineer Company and deserted in 2004. A photograph of a smiling Robin Long before he was deported and imprisoned serves as a sobering reminder of what’s at stake.

The deserters have become a tight-knit community, enjoying weekly dinners at a Chinese restaurant near the office, keeping tabs on one another’s court cases and celebrating the babies born to resisters and their spouses. To Zaslofsky, the young men and women have become his surrogate children, and he doesn’t want any of them jailed. Hunched at his computer, he reads a recent e-mail from a soldier at Fort Knox.

“I’ve been having some problems with what my military does and while I’ve put in for conscientious-objector status, it will most likely get denied, leaving me in a real bad spot,” the soldier writes. “I believe what the Army does is to commit murder ... unfortunately, the Army treats anyone with my feelings poorly. I can’t talk to my buddies because, well, simply put, they hate me for what I’m trying to do. I was wondering what the process of political refuge entails and whether it’s advisable to do this.”

click to flip through (5) IAN WILLMS - Ryan Johnson, a deserter from Central California formerly stationed at Fort Irwin, rallies at a War Resisters Support Campaign demonstration at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
  • Ian Willms
  • Ryan Johnson, a deserter from Central California formerly stationed at Fort Irwin, rallies at a War Resisters Support Campaign demonstration at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Related Stories

Given the grim political climate, what will Zaslofsky tell the man?

“I’ll advise him to call,” he says. “You never give up hope. We’re not discouraged; we’re angry.” Indeed, as he speaks, his face grows red and defiant. “We have a Rush Limbaugh government here — this isn’t how Canada is supposed to be.”

The political landscape was different when he deserted in 1969. Zaslofsky was drafted after graduating from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He reported for basic training but was disturbed by the stories soldiers returning from Southeast Asia told. When news of the My Lai massacre broke, Zaslofsky asked his sergeant major for an explanation of the mayhem that had led American soldiers to slaughter more than 300 unarmed civilians and toss them into a mass grave. “In war, bad things happen,” he recalls the man telling him. “I asked myself, ‘If I were in a situation like that, would I be the heroic guy who says, ‘Hey stop, this is terrible,’ or would I join in because I was experiencing the same rage and frustration they were?’ I felt I couldn’t be sure.” When he received orders to go to Vietnam, he filed for conscientious-objector status but was denied. In January 1970, he drove into Canada. While President Nixon struggled to keep a lid on the antiwar protests roiling the States, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was welcoming America’s deserters by the thousands.

It’s unclear whether today’s deserters will be affected by the fact that America now has a president who campaigned on his conviction that the Iraq War was illegal, which is precisely the refrain of most war resisters, many of whom volunteered to go to Afghanistan but refused to serve in Iraq. Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, who has been active in the peace movement, says President Obama is unlikely to make war deserters much of a priority in the near future. “I can’t imagine he’d consider amnesty or anything until the war has wound down sometime in his second term,” Zunes says. Even if Obama agrees with the resisters about the unfounded case for war in Iraq, he’s still the commander in chief, and it remains a crime to desert one’s comrades in a time of war.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Linsanity Comes to L.A.

    Point guard Jeremy Lin is reportedly coming to the Los Angeles Lakers.  Even if the news turns out to be false, the prospect of getting the 6 foot, 3 inch point guard's electric smile to L.A. set off a round of so-called Linsanity on social media. The Houston Rockets star...
  • EDC Vegas Raver Montgomery Tsang Died From an Ecstasy Overdose

    A young man who collapsed outside Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas died from an ecstasy overdose, the Clark County Coroner's office announced today. Following the results from toxicology tests, coroner's investigators determined that 24-year-old Montgomery Tsang of San Leandro, California died from "acute methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) toxicity," a coroner's official told...
  • ACLU Sues Government For Tracking Innocent Citizens

    In the post-9/11 world, you can be questioned by federal agents simply for taking photos of what they believe are security-sensitive buildings. Not only that, but that questioning is often preceded by a "suspicious activity report" (SAR) that stays in your federal file. The ACLU of California is suing the...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Scenes from the O.J. Simpson Circus
    In the months after O.J. Simpson's arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in the summer of 1994, the drama inside the courthouse riveted the masses. But almost as much mayhem was happening right outside the building, as well as near Simpson's Brentwood home. Dissenters and supporters alike showed up to showcase art inspired by the case, sell merchandise, and either rally for, or against, the accused football star. Here is a gallery of the madness, captured by a photojournalist who saw it all. All photos by Ted Soqui.