Canada deports U.S. deserter who opposes Iraq War

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, July 15 (Reuters) - Canada deported on Tuesday the first of some 200 Americans who deserted the U.S. military and sought refugee status to protest against the Iraq War.

Robin Long, 25, was removed a day after a Federal Court judge in Vancouver rejected his claim that he would suffer irreparable harm if returned to the United States. He fled across the border in 2005 as his army tank unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq.

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed Long's removal, but declined to give other details, citing privacy laws. Long's refugee claim had already been rejected and he could not appeal Monday's court ruling.

The issue of U.S. deserters has evoked memories of Canada's acceptance of tens of thousands of draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War. But it has also exposed a political split in the country -- even within its courts -- over what role it should play today.

Ottawa has deployed soldiers in Afghanistan but has refused to participate in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Long's supporters staged a small demonstration on Tuesday at the Peace Arch border crossing south of Vancouver.

"We may be small, but we represent a large body of people who disagree with what happened," said Sarah Bjorknas of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Opponents of granting refugee status to deserters argue that, unlike during the Vietnam War, the United States does not now have a military draft and members of its military are volunteers who know the potential risks.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government has ignored a nonbinding motion passed by opposition parties in the House of Commons last month that would have allowed the Iraq deserters to stay.

Long and others have argued it was only after they had joined the military that they decided the U.S. government had lied to the public about the reasons for the Iraq War, and they were refusing to fight in an illegal conflict.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused last year to hear the appeals of two U.S. deserters whose applications for refugee status were turned down by immigration authorities.

But Federal Courts in Ontario this month temporarily blocked the removal of two deserters, including Joshua Key who the court said did not get a proper immigration hearing on his claim that the Iraq War was unjust.

Long's supporters had argued he should not be deported until the conflicting court rulings were resolved.

It is unknown how many Iraq War deserters have moved to Canada, but peace groups have said they know of about 200 people seeking refugee status. It is estimated that more than 50,000 war resisters moved to Canada during the Vietnam era.

Long fled to Nelson, British Columbia, an area of the Pacific Coast province where many Vietnam War resisters decided to remain even after Washington granted amnesty in 1977. (Editing by Rob Wilson)