Sheehan Supports U.S. Deserters in Canada
Saturday, June 17, 2006; 9:44 PM
FORT ERIE, Ontario -- A group of American military deserters publicly embraced their new lives in Canada on Saturday with the support of "peace mom" Cindy Sheehan, who said she wished the son she lost in Iraq was among them.
"I begged him not to go to Iraq," the anti-war activist said through tears at a rally in support of the former soldiers, who wore black T-shirts emblazoned with "AWOL." "And I wish he was standing up here with these people because he didn't want to go."
Sheehan was making her second visit to Canada in support of sanctuary for those fleeing the U.S. military. The Canadian government has so far denied political asylum to U.S. soldiers who have sought it but appeals are pending.
"They're trying to deport me," said Darrell Anderson of Lexington, Ky., who arrived in Canada by way of Niagara Falls in January 2005. He spent seven months in Iraq with the Army's 1st Armored Division and received a purple heart following a roadside bomb attack before deciding during a leave he would not go back.
"When I was in Iraq, we were killing innocent people for oil. It was obvious they didn't want us there," said Anderson, 24, who is petitioning to remain in Canada.
The gathering at a park in the town of Fort Erie, across the border from Buffalo, N.Y., was organized by peace groups on both sides of the border.
About 20 former U.S. soldiers, referred to as war resisters, have applied for refugee status in Canada. Organizers estimated there may be as many as 200 soldiers in the country who have not yet sought formal protection.
"They say we're traitors, we're deserters," said former Marine Chris Magaoay, 20, of the Hawaiian island of Maui. "No, I'm a Marine and I stand up for what I believe in, and I believe the Constitution of the United States of America is being pushed aside as a scrap piece of paper."
The soldiers thanked Canadians for their hospitality and were cheered by about 100 in an audience that included Iraq veterans opposed to the war and Vietnam-era resisters who sought refuge in Canada decades earlier.
"I know that their choice has been difficult but I know that they made the right choice," said Bruce Beyer, who spent five years in Canada as a draft resister during Vietnam.
"I know that they miss their family and their friends that they're cut off from," Beyer said. "But I know that you Canadians have stepped up and stood behind them and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Sheehan, who energized the anti-war movement last summer with her monthlong protest outside President Bush's Texas ranch, said she has spent time with many of the resisters.
"They're moral human beings who don't want to go to Iraq and kill innocent people to line the pockets of George Bush and the war machine," she said.