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Bruce Beyer

In Canada We Trust

Leaving behind the military family they once cherished, Patrick and Jill Hart find a new family among other war resisters north of the border

 

By David King
Photos by Rose Mattrey

 

Jill Hart says it started with a phone call at 11 AM last August. It was a call that would uproot her from her Fort Campbell, Ky., home and challenge everything she had spent six years working for. It was her husband, Sgt. Patrick Hart. “Don’t bother coming to the bus station,” he told her. “I’m with friends. I’m not coming home. I’ll call you in a few days.”

Patrick Hart had been on leave from Fort Campbell in June and July 2005 and had asked for a pass to go to his hometown, Buffalo, to see a Bills game. The pass originally was denied, but because Jill was a leader in the base’s family readiness program and had a good relationship with the chain of command, she was able to secure him a pass.

She couldn’t go because of her responsibilities on the base. So while her husband was at a football game, Hart was at a meeting about how the base would act in the event of large casualities. “If you lose a Chinook you lose 80 people all at once,” she explains, matter-of-factly.

She knew her husband was scheduled to ship out to Iraq; she also knew that since he had come back from his duty in Kuwait he had not been the same. “He went to Kuwait for a year and came back changed,” she says. “I did not like him when he came back. He had a really quick temper. Before, he was goofy, nothing was ever serious. He came back the epitome of a sergeant in the Army, like ‘Yes ma’am’ all the time. I didn’t know what to do about it. He would wake up in the middle of the night. He would obviously wake me up. He never said anything about it, but he was having nightmares.”

Then there were the videos and pictures that Patrick’s friends had brought back from Iraq that he would look at to pump himself up for deployment; videos and pictures Jill was not allowed to see.

She knew her husband was loyal to the Army. He was a 32-year-old noncommissioned officer who had voluntarily reenlisted twice. The Army was both of their lives. Despite this strong connection to the military, she says it only took her a few hours to accept that her husband had gone to Canada. Yet knowing her husband’s loyalty to the military, she held out hope he might be coming back.

“One part of me thought he was not coming back,” she says. “The other thought he just got tickets to Ozzfest and went insane.” But her first assumption was correct: Patrick Hart had gone to Canada. His parents had arranged for him to cross the border and meet with representatives from the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Jill kept asking herself, “What kind of wife am I that he can do this and not tell me?”

Feeling abandoned, she decided to turn to the organization she still felt loyalty toward. “I called the commander, and he tells me he is not considered AWOL till the 24th. I say ‘OK, but that is not helping me right now.’ So he tells me not to worry. That Pat is one of his most outstanding NCOS and that he will be back.”

She spent two days consumed by uncertainty. Then on Aug. 24, the day he was officially AWOL, she received another call from her husband. She warned him that she intended to keep his commander informed about his location and forward any e-mails he sent.

“He let me rant and rave for 50 minutes,” says Jill, “and then I finally ran out of steam, and then he explained his side of the story. I asked him, ‘Did you leave the Army or did you leave all of us?’ He says he left the Army, and I say, ‘That’s funny, because I’m sitting here with your son and you’re not here.’ ”

Patrick’s call was not the only one she received that day. She says all the noncommissioned officers made the point to call and let her know what she couldn’t possibly have missed: Patrick was AWOL.

By now Jill had confirmed that Patrick was in Canada, and she had made sure that his commander knew that as well. But on the day after Patrick was officially AWOL, something happened that made Jill question her loyalty to the military. Patrick’s commander wanted a way to drag Patrick back.

“Next time you talk to Pat, tell him we are going to shut off your tri-care benefit,” he told Jill.

“At this point, I don’t know if anything short of a hypodermic needle and a frying pan will bring him [Patrick] back,” Jill remembers telling the commander.

“I hope Rian doesn’t have a seizure,” was the commander’s response. Rian, their son, has a condition that makes him prone to seizures. It is Army procedure to shut down the medical coverage of deserters. However, what the commander said next was anything but standard.

“I could arrange something with Blanchfield [the Army Hospital in Fort Campbell] where they could contact your husband and tell him you’ve been sexually assaulted, and he needs to come back right away.”

It suddenly became crystal clear to Jill where her loyalty should lie. “After six years of life in the military, after being an amazing military wife, it all crumbled,” she says. She called Patrick that night and told him she and their son were coming to Canada.

Jeffry House, a Toronto-based attorney who represents American soldiers seeking sanctuary in Canada, estimates that there are about 225 war resisters in Canada. He says currently only 30 of them are seeking refugee status.

House himself wound up in Canada as a draft resister during the Vietnam War. He insists that although there is no large movement inside the Canadian government to grant American war resisters sanctuary, there is a large section of the Canadian public sympathetic toward their cause. This may be bolstered by the fact that the United States’ Vietnam War resisters have become integral members of Canadian society. House points out that “almost anyone who went to school in the 1970s had a draft dodger as a teacher,” and that, “there are members of Parliament who are married to draft dodgers. There might even be one in Parliament.” He also notes that Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcaster Andy Berry was a draft dodger, and on the recent anniversary of his arrival in Canada, he spoke about why Iraq war resisters should be allowed to stay in Canada.

jill and patrick hart

“My sense is these guys are very popular here because George Bush is very unpopular,” says House. “A government that started sending these guys back would take a hit in terms of publicity.”

Lee Zaslofsky also is a Vietnam War draft resister, and he now works as the coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign of Canada. His organization lobbies the government to grant amnesty to American deserters and helps deserters find their place in Canadian society. He says he currently has 30,000 signatures from all over Canada of people asking the government to grant the resisters refugee status.

Zaslofsky notes that being granted sanctuary in Canada as a war resister is much more difficult now than it was during the Vietnam War era. Despite that, he says, life as a war resister in Canada these days is not as grueling and difficult as one might expect. “When they make refugee claims, they apply for a work permit. After the red tape, they get access to health care.” Zaslofsky notes that a number of resisters have been in Canada for two years now and have become pretty well integrated into society. It is simply a matter of applying for amnesty and appealing court decisions. “When they get a negative decision, we will appeal it to the courts,” he says, “and that will take years. Some have been here two and a half years now, living and working. They are not rich or anything. . . .”

While it may be unlikely that war resisters will be sent back anytime soon, two American soldiers who have applied for refugee status in Canada have been rejected. However, their cases and appeals processes are expected to last for quite some time. Some deserters still remain underground waiting to see the outcome of other refugee cases.

Despite the soldiers’ supposed popularity in Canada, since they still face 30 years in prison in the United States, they’ve been forced to abandon their families and the country that still remains dear to them. Bruce Beyer from Buffalo says that some of these soldiers are likely feeling isolated, forgotten. Beyer has an inside perspective, as he spent five years in Canada as a draft resister during the Vietnam War. “I know how I felt. Initially you are moving from place to place, figuring out how you are going to survive. Then the isolation begins to set in, and as wonderful as Canadian people are and welcoming, you are cut off from family and friends. That aloneness starts and it is just something you deal with. And then, of course, the American media likes to portray you as a deserter and a betrayer. To see that written about yourself makes you feel more isolated.”

Beyer returned from Canada in 1976 to petition for amnesty for draft dodgers. He is currently working to provide comfort for those who are now in the situation he was in years ago: stranded in Canada, afraid of what awaits at home.

On the weekend of June 16, Beyer held the Peace Has No Borders event in Buffalo across from the Peace Bridge, which links the United States to Canada. The event drew at least a thousand war protestors, including Cindy Sheehan. Beyer put up $5,000 that he had inherited from his activist father to rent a hall in which to host the event. He hoped to raise money to help soldiers living in Canada and to ask the Canadian government to pass legislation granting fleeing U.S. troops sanctuary. Soldiers decked out in T-shirts that read ‘AWOL’ told their stories and listened to those of Vietnam resisters. The event made national headlines, even drawing the ire of Matt Drudge and the Drudge Report.

Beyer was inspired to host the event by his meeting and consequent friendship with Jill and Patrick Hart. Jill Hart recalls being in Niagara Falls, Canada, around Thanksgiving and being told by in-laws about a call-in radio show where Beyer was speaking about U.S. soldiers living in Canada. She told her husband, “Pat, you should call in. What are they gonna do? Trace the call? They can’t come get you.” So he did. And as it turned out, Beyer had not only heard of the Harts through his work, but also, there was a connection between Jill Hart’s family and Beyer. She explains that Beyer used to date “aunt so-and-so.”

After the radio show, Jill Hart began e-mail correspondences with Beyer. “After two or three months, I got enough nerve to call him. And in the most father-daughter way, I fell in love with him. His voice is so compassionate. In a time when there was not a whole lot of support from family, he stepped in as a surrogate.”

Beyer has similar admiration for the Harts. “I met Patrick and Jill Hart a year ago, and it just made sense to me that I needed to do something,” he says. “I have a strong affinity with Iraq war resisters. I see it through Patrick and Jill’s eyes, the experience they are going through, and Pat and Jill’s parents know the pain that my parents knew.”

Backed up by fellow war resisters, wearing a Buffalo Bills cap, a black T-shirt with white lettering reading “AWOL,” Patrick Hart addressed the Peace Has No Borders conference. “When I got out of the Army in ’95, I was proud. I thought what I was doing is making a difference. When I enlisted in 2000, I thought the same thing. I was doing something good; America’s the good guys. That quickly changed after 9/11. In my mind, I could rationalize Afghanistan, but Iraq, I could never rationalize that. I reenlisted in 2004. My son, he’s 4 years old. He has a seizure disorder, and as Americans know, the health-care system in the states is not free. You have to have money to pay for health care. There was no way I could get out of the Army and get health-care coverage for my son. The only other option was coming to Canada. The other reason was I had younger soldiers coming up to me saying, ‘Sgt. Hart, what’s it like in Iraq? What are we gonna do there?’ ”

Although House says he does not recommend that U.S. soldiers go to Canada, he thinks there may be new hope for those who are there. The first cases of American soldiers applying for refugee status in Canada were denied, but House says he thinks the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision about Guantanamo Bay may give their cases new legal standing. He says that they have been arguing that the war in Iraq is an illegal war that violates the Geneva Convention. That argument is based on a charter from the U.N. handbook that states that no soldier shall participate in war that violates international law. However, he says, the Canadian courts have rejected that argument, saying that if a soldier is forced to violate international humanitarian law, then they may come and apply for refugee status.

“If you’re in Iraq and the sergeant says, ‘shoot that baby,’ it is a violation of humanitarian law,” explains House. “If you say, ‘they wanted me to shoot that baby and I wouldn’t,’ in theory you would be a refugee. That doesn’t extend to the violation of the general law of war that says all war has to be defensive in nature or approved by the Security Council.”

However, House says the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling gives them new legal footing.

“They held that the whole idea of not having a usual trial for people is a violation. The Geneva Convention applies to even people like combatants who aren’t wearing uniforms and aren’t identifying as such.

“The relevance for us,” explains House, is that soldiers have reported that what they were ordered to do was “go to a house at night, pull out all the men, throw hoods over them, tie with them handcuffs behind their back and throw them on a truck, and take them to Abu Ghraib. If that violates the Geneva accord, they don’t have to do that.”

Patrick Hart echoed House’s sentiments at the PHNB event. “If you’re just following orders, than you’re no better than the Nazis were in Germany in the ’40s. It is your duty as a soldier to lay down your weapons as per the Nuremburg trials.”

With all the support given to the current batch of deserters, or war resisters, or whatever you would like to call them, critics have tried to drive a wedge between them by pointing out that Vietnam resisters were drafted into service while today’s soldiers volunteered. Patrick told the PHNB crowd that those critics don’t know what is actually going on. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, there was a draft back then,’ ” he says. “Well, what they don’t understand is that there is a backdoor draft. Once there are orders to deploy, the stop-loss program prevents you from retiring or getting out.”

Jill Hart is extremely grateful for Beyer’s event. She says of him, “I would follow him into hell with two gas tanks strapped on my back.” She says the event allowed her to come in contact with a new family. “All the resisters were there. We were all together, and it was great. We supported each other as we normally do, but we are never together. To have them all together . . . I think they envision my husband as the leader of the pack cause he is highest-ranking, which I don’t think matters, and the oldest. To see my husband in that element . . . my heart just boils over.”

And if there was ever any question if the once-proud military wife supports her husband in his new roll as war resister and antiwar speaker, she quickly dismisses it. “I think I had a reporter ask me this: ‘What goes through your mind when people call your husband a coward?’ I said that if someone were to call my husband a coward, they would be a fool. What I meant by that was that you would have to be foolish if you read our story and looked at my husband after nine and a half years [of service] and call him a coward on any level. I explained to this person that if this was Vietnam, my husband would have gone through four tours of duty already. So how is he a coward? I love when people say, ‘Well you signed up.’ OK, you sign up and . . . after nine years you can’t get out.”

Beyer says the event exceeded his expectations on every level with the turnout and attention it garnered. But he really had only one goal in mind. “I just hope some young man or woman who just received orders to go to Iraq reads about it and says, ‘I don’t have to go,’ ” he says. “I was 19 in 1968. I had dropped out of college, wasn’t political in any way, shape or form. The draft board moved on me, and I didn’t have the slightest idea about American history. I met this woman, and she said to me, ‘You know, you don’t have to go.’ Literally, that is all it took, and from there my life changed. I started to read; I went and returned my draft card to Ramsey Clark. All it took was knowing that I didn’t have to go.”

As for Patrick and Jill, they both travel around Canada speaking about their struggle. They take donations from their audiences, and they hope to have their working papers approved so they can start contributing to Canadian society. However, Patrick has at least one more battle left. And he spoke about it at the PHNB event.

“War changes you,” he says. “It changes everybody. Whether you’re the man on the front line or the man in Kuwait, in the desert, looking out into . . . into nothing. It changes you, and it changed me. And I’m just trying to get back to being who I was before I went into the Army.”

dking@metroland.net


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