ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO, A TOWN of 130,000 residents twenty minutes northwest of Niagara Falls, New York, is no stranger to fleeing Americans. It was the first stop for slaves brought into Canada by the Underground Railroad in the 1800’s. Thanks in part to the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, it is still home to a number of Americans who left the U.S. to avoid Vietnam. And for the time being, the quaint town known in Canada as the Garden City is home to San Angelo’s Brandon Hughey, the second known American—and the only Texan—to desert the Army since the war in Iraq began, in March 2003.
Hughey, an eighteen-year-old former private from the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, fled his unit on March 1 of this year, the night before he was scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Since then he’s been embraced by the international anti-war community and become a minor celebrity in his new country. A Canadian Broadcasting Company news show filmed his border crossing, and about a dozen newspapers reported, often sympathetically, on his saga. “Deserter Treads on Slaves’ Path: St. Catharines, Ont., Is Again Sheltering Fleeing Americans,” shouted a headline in Canada’s National Post. Supporters in St. Catharines helped him set up a Web site— brandonhughey.org—to express his views. Peace activists invited him to speak at anti-war rallies. He had little money and no work permit, but a Quaker couple who housed draft dodgers during the Vietnam War, Rose Marie Cipryk and Don Alexander, agreed to take him in. He’s been living with them ever since.
In May I sat down with Hughey at a diner in St. Catharines for breakfast. He was quiet and articulate, if slightly nervous, often looking at the table as he answered questions. Although he was open to discussing his plight, he was clearly less interested