July 2, 2008— -- Since deserting his unit in Iraq and fleeing to Canada two years ago, Corey Glass has become the poster boy of the war resisters movement. Thursday in Toronto, supporters are planning to protest his scheduled deportation back to the United States.
But it turns out Glass has had little reason to be on the lam, ABC News has learned.
Unknown to him and his legion of supporters, Glass, 25, was actually discharged from the U.S. Army shortly after he went AWOL in 2006.
Glass and about 40 other American deserters who, like him, sought refugee status have prompted a national debate in Canada that last month reached the floor of parliament on where to draw the line between cowardice and conscience.
"I had absolutely no idea that I had been discharged," said Glass when ABC News informed him of his status. "This is insane. This is so weird. There are no warrants? No one is looking for me?"
According to U.S. Army documents and officials, Glass was discharged from the California National Guard Dec. 1, 2006, four months after he arrived in Canada.
"He is not considered absent without leave. He is not considered a deserter," said Maj. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman. "He is running for no reason. He is fully welcome in the United States. I cannot believe this is a big deal in Canada."
But it is a big deal in Canada, where lawmakers last month overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution, 137 to 110, to freeze the deportation of American deserters, starting with Glass.
Despite the resolution, the Immigration Ministry has decided to stick by its decision and plans to deport Glass July 10.
"The resolution was nonbiding," said Karen Shadd, a ministry spokeswoman. "Canada has one of the most generous refugee systems in the world, and each case is assessed on its individual merits."
Unlike the 30,000 to 50,000 American deserters who were given legal refuge in Canada during the Vietnam War, this latest crop of runaways is viewed by Canadian immigration authorities not as conscientious objectors avoiding a draft but as volunteers unwilling to fulfill their promise to the military and undeserving of refugee status.
"These claims that are coming up now are different from those of the Vietnam era. These individuals were volunteers and were not subject to forced military subscription. That's the difference," Shadd said.
Two years ago Glass, home on leave from Iraq, Googled the world "desertion" and after reading about American soldiers who defected to Canada during the Vietnam War got in a car and crossed the border.
Glass had joined the Indiana National Guard in 2002, just after the United States invaded Afghanistan and before war was declared against Iraq. He said he joined the guard to do humanitarian work and not to fight overseas.
"The recruiter told me the only way I'd have to fight was if there was an attack on America's borders," Glass said. "When I enlisted, we were already involved in Afghanistan, and it is specifically why I didn't sign up for the Army. I thought I'd maybe have to protect a nuclear facility or an airport or provide relief after a hurricane."
In 2005, Glass was transferred to the California National Guard and deployed to Iraq, where he served as a sergeant in military intelligence for the first five months of an 18-month tour.
"I tried to quit my job because I was stressed out. I was sent home on leave for two weeks and I told my boss I wasn't coming back," he said. "I didn't believe the National Guard had any right being there. I had been in the states eight months hiding out before coming to Canada."
For the first eight months of 2006, Glass hid out in the United States. In August, he went to Toronto, where he currently lives and works as a funeral director. He was discharged from the National Guard in December 2006.
"The Army called my mother and told her I would be treated as a felon and never be able to find a job," Glass told ABC News after learning he had been discharged. "But I never got anything official. I guess I never really asked."
A deserter is defined as a solider absent without authority for 30 consecutive days. Technically, deserters can face capital punishment, court martial, imprisonment of up to three years, forfeiture of all pay and a dishonorable discharge.
In practice, however, many are administratively discharged without court-martial and given discharges worse than fully honorable, but better than dishonorable.
"Most deserters are discharged administratively and not court-martialed," said Lt Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman. "If someone deserts and that's their only offense, we're not going to send someone out to find you."
Glass was given a "general under honorable conditions" discharge, which is not as good as an "honorable" discharge, but it also carries none of the negatives associated with a dishonorable discharge, which is the equivalent of being charged with a felony.
According to Edgecomb, Glass is likely still eligible for many benefits.
In 2006, 3,301 troops out of 492,728 soldiers deserted from the Army, according to Defense Department statistics.
News that Glass had been unknowingly discharged was "bittersweet" said Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, which organized the protests scheduled for Thursday.
Despite his discharge, Glass remains in the Individual Ready Reserve, which means there is a small but still real chance he could be called up to serve in Iraq.
"It is bittersweet, if they had given him a real discharge this would be amazing," Robidoux said. "It is a poisoned gift. He may be discharged but he is still on the hook. He can still be called back to serve in Iraq."
In May 2008, Glass learned that he lost his last appeal to be given refugee status and would be deported July 10.
Canadians overwhelmingly support giving American deserters refugee status. In parliament the votes lined for and against the resolution to freeze deportations lined up along party lines. All those opposed to the resolution were members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority conservative coalition.
Harper took office in 2006 pledging to improve relations with the United States, leading the deserters' supporters to claim the Immigration Ministry's decision to overlook the resolution and follow through on the deportations was purely political.
"We have a minority government behaving like a majority government and ignoring the will of parliament. The program won a majority in parliament but the government is opposed to it for purely ideological and political reasons," Robidoux said.