The day after Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin lunched with President George Bush at his Texas ranch, Canada's Immigration Review Board (IRB) announced its rejection of a bid for asylum by Jeremy Hinzman, the US Army soldier who fled north in January 2004 rather than be deployed in a war he regards as a "criminal enterprise." Hinzman is the first of an estimated ten GIs currently seeking refugee status in Canada to have his case heard. (Hinzman's attorney, Jeffry House, who is representing eight of the claimants, says he has been called by about fifty soldiers considering filing such applications.)
The March 24 ruling asserted that Hinzman did not qualify as a refugee because he would not face persecution if returned to the United States. Doing time for desertion "does not amount to a violation of a fundamental human right, and the harm is not serious," IRB member Brian Goodman wrote in the judgment.
That conclusion may be disappointing, both Hinzman and House note, but it was not unexpected, given that Goodman did not allow them to argue that the war itself is illegal. Punishing someone for refusing to participate in such a war would certainly amount to persecution, House says.
Goodman's decision also charged that Hinzman's moral opposition to the war was not convincing because he was willing to complete his contract with the military in a noncombat role. "There are degrees of complicity," Hinzman responds. "Anyone who pays taxes is complicit. But it's really another thing altogether to pull a trigger. Not to recognize that is just myopic."
Planning to appeal, Hinzman adds that precedent-setting cases--such as one involving a Russian who was granted refugee status after fleeing military service in Chechnya--were won on appeals.
As for Martin's hoedown with Bush, Hinzman doesn't think his case was discussed. "I don't have any feelings of grandiosity," he says. "We're small fish." Still, Canada's Liberal Party is largely acquiescent in relation to Washington these days as it tries to protect its beef and lumber industries, and House finds Goodman's decision excessively "deferential" to the United States. On the other hand, Canada's refusal to participate in Bush's missile defense shield bodes well, especially if Hinzman's case eventually moves out of the courts to a direct request for permission from the government to remain in Canada on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. "Canada can stand up for principle if there's popular pressure," says House, adding, "in Canada, the war is very unpopular."