American Conscientious Objector Wins Right to Appeal Refugee Board Ruling
By Faisal Kutty
A FEDERAL court in Toronto has agreed to hear an appeal from an American soldier turned down for refugee status in Canada after refusing to serve in Iraq. If he is sent back to the U.S., Jeremy Hinzman faces a court martial and the possibility of up to five years in jail as a deserter.
Hinzman joined the elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne, about three years ago. He served in a noncombatant role in Afghanistan and was later turned down by the military brass as a conscientious objector. When, on his subsequent return to the U.S., he learned that he would be deployed in Iraq, he decided to cross the border into Canada in early 2004. He is currently living in Toronto with his wife, Nga Nguyen, and son, Liam.
The Rapid City, South Dakota native believes that the U.S. attack on Iraq is illegal under international law and that he would be a party to war crimes if he participated.
In March 2005, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board turned down Hinzman’s refugee claim. The former soldier’s lawyer, Jeffrey House, had argued that the 23-year-old Hinzman would be punished for acting on his conscience.
The Board, however, found that Hinzman did not qualify as a conscientious objector. The adjudicator also held that he was not convinced that the ex-soldier would face persecution in the U.S. if forced to return. The Board, which has never accpeted a refugee from the United States, has stated in the past that America is not a “refugee producing” country.
In denying Hinzman’s claim, the adjudicator opined that the legal status of the war in Iraq had no bearing on the case. One of the issues on which Hinzman’s appeal is based is the question of whether this decision not to consider the legality of the war amounted to an error in law.
The politically sensitive case is being closely monitored by authorities in Canada and the U.S. Indeed, the case has become the proverbial public relations “hot potato” for American authorities. At the hearing, a former U.S. Marine testifying in Hinzman’s support stated that American soldiers in Iraq routinely violated international law by killing unarmed women, children and other Iraqi civilians.
Canadian supporters say that hundreds of U.S. soldiers may be in the country and that at least 20 of them are trying to gain refugee status. Profiles of a few of them are available online at http://www.resisters.ca/resisters_stories.html.
Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign called the federal court ruling a “real breakthrough” for U.S. resisters. “This is very good,” Zaslofsky told the press. “It will have an impact on all the other cases.”
The matter will be heard by Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington on Feb. 7 in Toronto. According to attorney House, if his arguments are successful the court likely will refer the matter back to the board (to a different adjudicator or panel) for further consideration. Justice Harrington may also provide specific instructions on dealing with the contested issues, House said, principally the legality of the war in Iraq.
“The best possible outcome,” he said, “is that we get a full hearing in which all our arguments are considered.”
Both House and Zaslofsky are Vietnam-era war resisters who settled in Canada.
A new film on war resisters, “Let Them Stay,” will screen in Toronto on Dec. 10. The film, narrated by Shirley Douglas and produced and directed by Alex Lisman, features one-on-one interviews with U.S. war resisters, documenting their life-changing experiences in Iraq and the hidden realities of U.S. military recruitment and warfare. It also documents the War Resisters Support Campaign, a pan-Canadian coalition working with the war resisters to put pressure on the federal government to allow these former soldiers to remain in the country.
A number of resisters, including Darrell Anderson, Patrick and Jill Hart, Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, and Ryan and Jen Johnson will attend the premiere.
For more information, contact the War Resisters Support Campaign by phone, : (416)598-1222 or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canadian Peace Alliance Conference Draws More Than Two Hundred
The Canadian Peace Alliance, the country’s largest umbrella group of peace and justice organizations, held its 20th Anniversary Conference Nov. 11 to 13 on Parliament Hill in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. The conference was co-sponsored by Muslim Presence Ottawa.
The conference, titled “Challenging Canada’s Role in Empire,” featured a number of workshops and seminars covering Canada’s complicity in the U.S. occupation of Haiti and Afghanistan; Resisting Bush’s war crimes: the case for asylum for U.S. war resisters; GI Resistance: Vietnam to today; The Movement and the Media: Forgotten Crises, Biases, and Alternatives; and The Role of Faith Groups in Peace and Justice.
Among the speakers addressing the 200 attendees were Virginia Rodino, Washington organizer of United For Peace and Justice, Jose Vasquez of Iraq Veterans Against War, Ali Mallah of the Canadian Arab Federation, and Professor Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
Canada’s peace and justice movement has evolved over the past two decades, and the CPA has grown with it. This year’s conference was rescheduled to accomodate the growing number of Canadian Muslim activists joining the movement. Many Muslims could not attend last year’s event because it was held in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. This year’s conference was also the first to have dedicated prayer space.
Note: This article was first published in The Washington Report On Middle East Affairs January/February 2006 edition.
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