TORONTO, March 24 -- A board hearing Canada's refugee cases rejected a bid Thursday for asylum by a U.S. Army deserter who refused to go to Iraq, raising legal roadblocks to the growing trickle of American servicemen fleeing north of the border.
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.
Jeremy Hinzman, with his son Liam and wife Nga Nguyen, waits for the refugee board in Toronto to begin hearing his case in December 2004.
(Jim Ross -- Globe And Mail Via AP)
Hinzman, a parachute-trained specialist from 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 and he estimated there were "about 100" in hiding in Canada.
"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 the ruling was a setback for those fleeing the war, but that it didn't "make those cases unwinnable."
The decision came 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, located in the violent Sunni Triangle area, before deserting while home on 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 those claims, along with those that he would be persecuted for following his conscience. But the board noted that the United States, as a democracy, would give Hinzman "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 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 would not be "not excessive or disproportionately severe."
The case had been followed closely in Canada, where public sentiment was overwhelmingly opposed to the invasion of Iraq. House, Hinzman's attorney, fled the Vietnam War in 1970, and Hinzman was supported by other former Vietnam resisters who stayed in Canada.