When Pte. 1st Class Joshua Key saw fellow U.S. soldiers kicking around the heads of decapitated Iraqi civilians as if they were soccer balls, he knew he had to speak out.
But when he tried to tell his superiors about the alleged 2003 incident, he was told it was none of his business and to keep his mouth shut while America waged its war on terror.
Key claims to have seen other innocent Iraqi civilians killed by American soldiers for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time during his seven-month tour of duty as a combat engineer, specializing in explosives and landmines.
When he returned to the U.S. for a two-week leave later that year, he told army officials he was morally opposed to the military actions of many soldiers and he wouldn't return to Iraq.
'It's by the grace of the universe that we're not where they are. We're one step ahead of them. You lose your pride very quickly. I'm 26 and living (in an apartment) above my father with three kids'
"I was told I had two choices -- go back to Iraq or go to jail. That's when I ran," he said.
He lived in hiding for the following 14 months in Philadelphia and then went to Toronto in March 2005 and Winnipeg that October.
Since then, the now-36-year-old has been denied a work permit and access to health care.
It would be difficult enough to make ends meet on his own, but he has a young wife, Alexina, and three children, Linkon, 5, Roscoe, 3, and Eva, 1, to support.
He also has four children from a previous marriage but hasn't seen any of them for years because he said the American courts wouldn't grant him anything in the divorce.
"My ex-wife did a domestic kidnapping. They've been MIA for three years," he said.
Key recently filed another application for a work permit, and he's cautiously optimistic this one will be accepted.
"My lawyer says the rules have changed. I have my fingers crossed," he said, noting he is a skilled welder, plumber and electrician.
In the meantime, he said, he and his family are surviving off the generosity of private donations from many Canadian and American families.
No matter how destitute they are, Alexina said they always give money to homeless people they see on the street.
"It's by the grace of the universe that we're not where they are. We're one step ahead of them. You lose your pride very quickly. I'm 26 and living (in an apartment) above my father with three kids," she said.
Key was hoping to clear at least $1,500 from a fundraising event Monday night at St. Matthews Church. The evening was scheduled to include a dinner, speeches by both him and his wife and a silent auction.
It was supported by Peace Alliance Winnipeg, Project Peacemakers, Council of Canadians -- Winnipeg Chapter, Winnipeg People's Social Forum, Canadian Dimension and Food Not Bombs.
Key said he is one of an estimated 200 U.S. "war resisters" in Canada, a small fraction of the 50,000 in the U.S.
"This is my family's Vietnam," he said, noting his younger brother, Rusty, lost three limbs in Afghanistan two years ago.
Key said his ultimate goal is to be accepted by the Canadian government, allowed to work north of the border and be a productive member of society.
"I want to be able to stay here and be a Canadian," he said.