About Shelter from the Storm, by playwright Peter Boychuk

Since the war in Iraq began, an estimated 200-300 U.S. soldiers have deserted their posts and come up to Canada. They had every reason to believe they would find refuge here. During the Vietnam War, fifty thousand deserters and draft dodgers were welcomed into the country with open arms. Yet war resisters from Iraq have met with a very different fate.

Rodney Watson joined the military in 2004 when he was downsized from his job. The recruiter told him his duties would be supervising a dining facility north of Mosul. When he was deployed in 2005, he found himself operating a mobile X-ray that scanned vehicles for explosives.

When I asked Rodney what made him leave, he described encountering a Iraqi civilian with a gunshot wound. Rodney pleaded over the radio for the base to send help. His requests were denied, and the man died in his arms.

In his book The Deserter’s Tale, Joshua Key describes doing house raids. His team would show up at night, arrest the men, and search the house for weapons. After one search, a Hum-V pulled up and officers emerged. They took the women into the house and ordered Joshua to guard the door. The whole time they were in there, the women screamed.

Rodney and Joshua came up to Canada and applied to the Immigration Review Board as refugees. Their requests were denied and both faced deportation. Instead of leaving, Rodney took sanctuary in First United church on Hasting Street. Joshua is still trying to appeal his decision. Other war resisters have been sent back and done time for desertion.

Shelter from the Storm is inspired by their stories. The play is being produced by Touchstone Theatre as part of the Flying Start program, a partnership with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre, that gives a stage to new professional playwrights. Kyle Jespersen plays Scott, a young soldier who deserts his post from Iraq and stays with a draft dodger named Rick, played by Peter Hall. Recent Studio 58 graduate Lindsay Winch rounds out the cast as Caitlin, Rick’s surfer daughter. Katrina Dunn directs and Martin Kinch is doing dramaturgy.

The play runs May 31 – June 9 at the Firehall Arts Centre, which is one block away from First United Church, where Rodney lives with his wife and son. Buy tickets here or call 604.689.0926 .

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