U.S. Army Pvt. Rodney Watson says he does not want to go back to Iraq, and does not want to go to prison in the U.S., so has sought sanctuary in Vancouver. ((CBC))

A U.S. military deserter has sought sanctuary in a Vancouver church to avoid deportation and imprisonment in his home country.

Rodney Watson was given sanctuary at First United Church on Sept. 18, days after his refugee claim was rejected, it was learned Monday.

Watson, 31, fears he will be sent to prison and separated from his fiancée and infant son if he is forced to return to the U.S.

Watson joined the U.S. army in 2004 and spent a year in Iraq. He later came to Canada after learning he'd have to go back to Iraq for one more year.

He said he deserted because of the racial hatred he witnessed against the Iraqis during his first tour of duty.

"I love my family. I love my country," Watson told a Vancouver news conference at the church in East Vancouver.

"But I don't love the fact that we're over there fighting a war that is unjust and has no way or no means to protect the U.S. population," said Watson.

Watson said his 10-month-old son is in foster care, but he would not say why. Watson said he hopes to get married and live in B.C.

Joined army to be a cook

Church officials said he is Canada's first and only U.S. war resister in sanctuary, and they said Watson could stay at the church as long as he chooses.

The church agreed to take Watson in because it opposes the war in Iraq and because the U.S. military treated Watson unfairly — putting him on an explosives detail when he had signed up to be a cook, according to First United Church minister Ric Matthews

Watson said he hopes Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will grant him permission to stay in Canada.

But Kenney has said the government doesn't believe U.S. military deserters are genuine refugees in the internationally accepted meaning of the term.

None of the handful of U.S. deserters who have tried to stay in Canada has been given refugee status.