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Top court refuses to hear cases of U.S. deserters

Last Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2007 | 10:23 AM ET

Canada's top court will not hear the appeals of two American army deserters whose requests for refugee status were denied.

The Supreme Court of Canada  refused Thursday to hear the cases of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, who each deserted to Canada in 2004 after learning they were to be deployed to Iraq.

Jeremy Hinzman faces a court martial and a possible sentence of five years for desertion.Jeremy Hinzman faces a court martial and a possible sentence of five years for desertion.
(Canadian Press)

The high court, as usual, gave no reasons for its refusal.

The men both applied for refugee status in 2004.

The Immigration and Refugee Board rejected their claims in 2005. The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal have also refused to review the cases.

Hinzman is believed to be the first American soldier to have fled to Canada because of the Iraq war, but dozens more may be in the country.

He enlisted in the U.S. army as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and deserted in 2004 to avoid going to Iraq. He fled to Canada with his wife and preschool-age son.

Now living in Toronto and working as a bike courier, Hinzman faces a court martial and a possible five-year prison sentence if he returns to the U.S.

In response to the ruling, the men's lawyer, Jeffry House, is asking the federal government to set up a program that would grant protection to war deserters. He is calling on the Conservatives to issue a ministerial permit that would allow his clients to stay in Canada.

The War Resisters Support Campaign also said the federal government should provide political asylum to war deserters seeking refuge in Canada. The coaliton of community, faith, labour and other organizations is planning to hold a demonstration in Toronto on Thursday night.

"We call on Parliament to take a stand by enacting a provision that would allow U.S. war resisters and their families to stay in Canada," said actor and activist Shirley Douglas.

"The Supreme Court has handed the issue back to Parliament. It is urgent that Parliament demonstrate leadership and act in accordance with Canadian tradition."

Denied political asylum

A release issued by the group on Thursday said a June 2007 poll by Strategic Communications showed 64.6 per cent of respondents in Ontario believe U.S. war deserters should be allowed to settle in Canada. The poll had an error margin of four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

During his three-day hearing before the immigration board, Hinzman said he sought refugee status because he opposed the war in Iraq on moral grounds and thought the U.S. invasion violated international human rights standards.

An immigration panel in March 2005 denied Hinzman political asylum, saying he failed to convince them he would be persecuted if he returned to the U.S. The board also denied asylum to Hinzman's wife and son.

The Immigration and Refugee Board members said the U.S. is a democratic country and would provide Hinzman with a fair trial.

With files from the Canadian Press
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