TORONTO – Canada’s Refugee Hearing board Thursday rejected a bid for asylum by a U.S. Army deserter who refused to go to war in Iraq, raising legal roadblocks to the growing trickle of American servicemen fleeing to Canada.
The board ruled that Jeremy Hinzman, 26, could not argue that he would be unfairly persecuted in the United States for refusing to serve in what he said was an illegal war.
Hinzman, a parachute-trained specialist raised in Rapid City, S.D., served in Afghanistan but fled from Fort Bragg, N.C., and entered Canada in January 2004 after his unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, was given orders to deploy to Iraq.
“Our hands were tied by not being able to argue the legality of the war,” Hinzman told several dozen demonstrators, including two other American deserters, who gathered outside the U.S. consulate after the decision. Now working as a bicycle courier, Hinzman cycled up after work to chants of “War resisters welcome here.”
His attorney, Jeffry House, said nine other servicemen had started the asylum application process in Canada, and he estimated “about 100” were in hiding in the country.
“Obviously we are disappointed,” House said. “We certainly are not giving up. We believe the decision is wrong, and we will appeal it.”
House said Thursday’s decision didn’t “make those cases unwinnable.”
The decision comes two weeks after the arrival of another serviceman, who served eight months in Iraq before fleeing to Canada with his wife and four young children. Army Pfc. Joshua Key, 26, served as a combat engineer in Fallujah and Ramadi, where violent opposition has been particularly fierce, before deserting while on a home leave.
In Canada, he told reporters he refused to return to Iraq because of “the atrocities that were happening to the innocent people of Iraq.”
Hinzman, whose case is the first to be decided by the refugee board, tried to raise similar arguments, but the board refused to hear his claims. He also claimed he would be persecuted for following his conscience. But the board noted that the United States remains a democracy and that Hinzman would be given “full protection of a fair and independent … judicial process” if he returned to face trial.
Hinzman initially applied for non-combat, conscientious objector status in the Army, but was denied. The Refugee Hearing Board said “Mr. Hinzman was no doubt guided by his moral code” in refusing to serve, but that he failed the test of a refugee fleeing persecution. The board found that his likely punishment in the United States was “not excessive or disproportionately severe.”
Hinzman’s attorney, House, fled the Vietnam War in 1970, and Hinzman was supported by other former Vietnam resistors who stayed in Canada.
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