View Full Version : U.S. deserter bids to remain in Canada

02-08-06, 05:44 PM
U.S. deserter bids to remain in Canada
Globe and Mail Update

Anti-war demonstrators gathered outside a Toronto court Wednesday where it was decision day for a U.S. military deserter who fled his post rather than serve in Iraq is asking to be allowed to remain in this country.

On Wednesday morning, the Federal Court began reviewing the case of former soldier Jeremy Hinzman, 27, who fled the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., in January, 2004, to avoid service in Iraq and sought refuge in Toronto with his wife and son.

Outside the courthouse, protesters held up signs and banners declaring: 'Let war resisters stay.'

The court — which is also examining the case of a second deserter, Brandon Hughey — is to determine whether a decision by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board last mark to deny Mr. Hinzman political asylum should stand.

Mr. Hinzman is the first U.S. service member to seek asylum formally in Canada because of his opposition to the war in Iraq.

He requested asylum because of the fear of persecution in the United States for his refusal to take part in the controversial war, saying he would be committing a crime if he killed anyone during the course of the conflict because the war is illegal.

The refugee board, in turning down his request, refused to hear evidence as to the illegality of the war.

The case has drawn international attention and is being closely watched by people on both sides of the argument for the implications a ruling would hold for others in a similar situation.

Some estimates have suggested that as many as 200 U.S. military personnel are secretly in Canada to avoid the war. About 20 are now trying to gain refugee status.

Mr. Hinzman, who now works as a bike courier, faces a court-martial and possible jail time if sent home.

Speaking with CBC ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Mr. Hinzman said he saw changes in himself during the course of his service with the U.S. military.

"I felt I was losing myself, what makes me human and that I was just turning into some sort of, sort of robot," he said.

High-profile human-rights groups Amnesty International and the University of Toronto-based International Human Rights Clinic have also taken up Mr. Hinzman's cause and are seeking intervenor status in the case.

"Amnesty International considers that there is a significant risk that he would be imprisoned for one to five years for having left the armed forces without authorization, despite the fact that he had taken reasonable steps to obtain exemption from combatant duties on the grounds of his conscientious objection," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"If he is forcibly returned and imprisoned, Amnesty International would adopt him as a prisoner of conscience."

At Wednesday's hearing, Mr. Hinzman's lawyer Jeffry House, representing both Mr. Hinzman and Mr. Hughey, argued that the immigration board's erred by refusing to hear evidence about the legality of the war in Iraq.

He also said that relying on the U.S. justice system to deal with the men amounts to asking them to "throw themselves into the fire."

At the earlier immigration hearing, that board said Mr. Hinzman was not a conscientious objector because, despite his opposition to the war in Iraq, he was not a pacifist. As well, the panel argued that the United States is a democratic country with its own legal system and prosecution for his actions cannot be equated with persecution.

If the Federal Court sides with Mr. Hinzman and Mr. Hughey, their cases would likely be sent back to the immigration board.

With reports from Canadian Press