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Seeking Refuge

 Megaphone (Canada) 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) Watson spent a year between 2004 and 2005 as an E4 specialist stationed in Northern Iraq. He was responsible for searching civilians and vehicles for contraband and explosives. Armed with a radio and an M16 rifle, he worked on bringing peace between the Sunni and Shi’ites. Off the job, he witnessed his fellow soldiers torturing and beating their captives senseless. An American deserter finds safety in the Downtown Eastside and speaks with Stefania Seccia (584 words) - By Stefania Seccia

Megaphone

Courtesy of Megaphone

Behind a dilapidated door at First United Church on Hastings Street and Gore Avenue is the residence of Rodney Watson, an American soldier who deserted the military and found sanctuary in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

 

"I feel safe here," Watson said in his living room on the second floor of the church. He has been in Canada since October 2006, thanks to a combined effort between First United and an organization called the War Resisters.

 

If he hadn't found sanctuary at First United, Watson would have been deported by the Canadian government on September 11, 2019. Back home in Texas, the commander of his unit could then choose a jail sentence he or she feels is warranted.

 

"When my claim was denied and that date was chosen it was like a slap in the face. It didn't feel like it was a random day spat out by a computer," Watson said. "I'm still a veteran. I still love my country."

 

Watson spent a year between 2004 and 2005 as an E4 specialist stationed in Northern Iraq. He was responsible for searching civilians and vehicles for contraband and explosives. Armed with a radio and an M16 rifle, he worked on bringing peace between the Sunni and Shi'ites. Off the job, he witnessed his fellow soldiers torturing and beating their captives senseless.

 

"I wanted to be the whistle blower but my hands were tied," Watson lamented. "You're stuck there with these people who have machine guns and know it was you." Now Watson stands to lose his life again. This time he faces being deported, which would mean leaving behind his Canadian fiancé and10-month-old son.

 

However, Vancouver East MP Libby Davies met with Watson recently and gave him hope for his future.

"She gave me confidence and said she'll do everything she can to help me stay in the country," he said.

Watson led a comfortable life before he enlisted, working in shipping for the Ford motor company after quitting business school. He worked there seven years before losing his job.

 

"I tried to find something that paid as much as my job," Watson explained. "It was either turn to a life of crime or join the army." After spending a year in Iraq, he came back to his mother, father and siblings for the six- to eight-month break. But shortly after he returned he was informed that the break would only be a three- to four-month-long duration.

 

That's when Watson decided to leave the army, going through the legal steps for refuge in Canada.

"It was too soon, I thought," he said. "I didn't want to be a part of that. It was right around when Hurricane Katrina hit and I said to myself that people here needed us and were suffering badly, but we were spending billions and billions to help people in another country who didn't even want it."

 

Watson is now waiting for a change of Canadian government. He says the worst-case scenario would be law enforcement dragging him out of the church and forcing him back to Texas where the military is waiting for him.

 

The best-case scenario is being granted amnesty from the States and landed immigrant status from Canada. For now, Watson gets visits from his fiancé and looks forward to a meeting with the pastor, Libby Davies and the War Resisters in the next few weeks.

 

"I want to be part of some great change," said Watson. "There needs to be a great change, as a matter of fact."

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