Saturday, December 04, 2004


Canada must decide whether to support U.S. war crimes

Canada's PM Paul Martin may be relieved that Bush has returned safely to the U.S. after suffering nothing worse than a display of "one-finger salutes." But a case coming this Monday before Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) holds more risk for U.S.-Canadian relations. Jeremy Hinzman, a 25-year-old paratrooper, who has sought refuge in Canada rather than be forced to kill in the Iraq war, will be making his case for refugee status before the board.

Hinzman while on duty had applied for conscientious objecter (CO) status. After serving in Afghanistan in a noncombatant role, his CO request was denied and he was subsequently ordered to Iraq. At that point he fled to Canada, and the U.S. military now views him as a deserter. Hinzman insists that he would have been willing to go to Iraq if he could have gone as a noncombatant. He is married to a Laotian refugee and has taken up the study of Buddhism.

Older readers will remember the 30,000 to 90,000 people who fled to Canada as draft-evaders. But the United States has no draft, and now as then there is no official welcome in Canada for deserters. Fortunately, a Canadian underground is forming for the protection of deserters, and Canadians who participate face no legal risks.

According to Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist who writes a column for the Guardian

Hinzman’s lawyer, Jeffry House, had planned to hinge the case on the argument that the war itself was illegal because it lacked UN approval. They had an army of experts lined up, but last week they got the bad news: the Canadian government had intervened and the board ruled that the legality of the war is “irrelevant” to the case.

Now House will argue that Hinzman is a political refugee because he is refusing to fight in a war in which violations of international law are systemic, from torture in Abu Ghraib to attacks on civilians areas.

They have witnesses lined up to attest to war crimes. Since the hearing has been scheduled over a three-day period, does that mean that the IRB is going to let Hinzman present his defense? Interestingly, Hinzman's attorney was himself a draft-evader who moved to Canada 34 years ago.

Klein makes an important point: With American troop reserves stretched to the point of breaking, any decision by Canada to accept deserters could break the back of the war in Iraq. She concludes—

[I]f Hinzman is granted refugee status, it could well be the last straw, opening the floodgates to other U.S. soldiers who don’t want to fight.... If Canada once again became a haven for war resisters, it would mean that we were not just quietly opting out of the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. We would be helping to end it.

If Canada accepts Hinzman as a refugee, the repercussions for U.S.-Canadian relations may be severe. The most immediate consequence would likely be further trade restrictions on the Canadians with no hope for removing barriers to timber imports.

According to Hinzman's website,

Jeremy Hinzman and Jimmy Massey will be featured in a public meeting on the evening of December 4, the Saturday just prior to the IRB hearing. This meeting is being sponsored by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the War Resister Support Campaign.

A vigil outside the IRB offices in downtown Toronto will begin at 7:30 am Monday morning, Dec. 6, along with vigils in cities across Canada.

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