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U.S. deserter bids to remain in Canada


TERRY WEBER, Globe and Mail, Toronto, Feb 8, 2006

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 (which is beside the U.S. Consulate), 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

http://www.resisters.ca

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