Dates To Remember:
US deserter's Canadian campaign
Story from BBC NEWS:
By Jeff Gray
"I'm coming for you," reads one threatening e-mail, laced with racism and
obscenities. "Desserters [sic] should get shot in the back especially at war
time," reads another.
Vicious messages, mostly from Americans, have flooded the inbox of
25-year-old Jeremy Hinzman, an American soldier who deserted to seek refugee
status in Canada after refusing to participate in the war in Iraq, which he
has called a "criminal enterprise".
Mr Hinzman, one of at least two US Army deserters to have fled north, now
lives in a Toronto apartment with his wife and two-year-old son, awaiting a
refugee hearing on Wednesday, when he will plead with Canadian authorities
to allow him to stay.
The former paratrooper said he feels the e-mail vitriol, sent to an address
posted on a web site set up by Canadian supporters, can only bolster his
case to stay north of the border.
"As far as I'm concerned that solidifies our refugee claim," he told BBC
News Online, adding that the United States "is a more freewheeling society,
with all kinds of access to weapons".
But many experts believe that Mr Hinzman and his fellow deserter,
18-year-old Brandon Hughey, have little hope of being granted refugee status
here, despite Canada's reputation as a generous nation for asylum seekers.
Looking for a home
Americans in trouble have been running to Canada for centuries.
First, in the wake of the American Revolution, thousands living in the new
United States who wanted to stay loyal to the British Crown were forced to
flee and start new lives to the north.
After the British empire abolished slavery in 1833, British Canada was the
destination for the celebrated Underground Railroad that spirited escaped
American slaves to freedom.
And in the 1960s, as many as 60,000 young American men dodged the draft by
crossing the 49th parallel, hoping to avoid killing or getting killed in the
jungles of Vietnam.
Things have changed since then, when Canadian university campuses and the
coffee shops of Toronto's Yorkville hippie enclave were crawling with young
Americans who had burned their draft cards.
Most of those draft dodgers simply applied for landed immigrant status once
in Canada, which opposed its southern neighbour's military adventures in
But immigration rules have been tightened since the Vietnam era, making
would-be migrants apply from their home countries. This has pushed Mr
Hinzman and Mr Hughey into Canada's refugee system.
Canada is diverse, and half of the people would probably like to send us
back on the next bus if they could
In the past, Canada has refused to return asylum seekers who would face the
death penalty back to the United States. Technically, the death penalty
remains on the books for deserters, although the last such execution took
place during World War II.
Observers say the two soldiers would only face five-year prison sentences if
Master Sergeant Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr Hinzman's 82nd Airborne
Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said the soldier's name
had been placed in database for law enforcement and border guards in case
they come across him.
But the Army does not actively seek out deserters, she said.
Sgt Smith said if Mr Hinzman was caught or turned himself in, it would be up
to his unit to decide whether he should be disciplined, discharged or
In late May, a court martial sentenced another US soldier, Staff Sergeant
Camilo Mejia, to a year in prison for deserting his unit in Iraq.
US officials said the sentence would send other would-be deserters a stern
message. Sgt Mejia had called the Iraq war an "oil-driven" conflict.
Left-wing activists and writers in Canada have welcomed the two deserters
and urged the government to accept their refugee claims.
Mr Hinzman, who decided he opposed the Iraq war while serving in
Afghanistan, has spoken to peace groups and even addressed a large anti-war
rally in Toronto in March.
But some, including the editorial page of the conservative National Post
newspaper, have argued that the pair should have known what they were
getting into when they signed up for the US Army, and should be sent home to
Mr Hinzman says he has no illusions about the country where he has asked for
refuge: "Canada is diverse, and half of the people would probably like to
send us back on the next bus if they could."
Canadian officials have said little about the two soldiers, leaving their
cases to the arm's-length refugee process.
But south of the border, right-wing commentators such as Bill O'Reilly of
the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News TV network have seized on the case, even
calling for a boycott of Canadian goods if the pair are not extradited
Besides the numbers, the main difference between those who fled the United
States in the Vietnam era and these two soldiers is, of course, the draft.
The US Army is now a volunteer force, although critics point out that many
soldiers come from poor rural backgrounds and see the service as the only
way to get a job or a college education.
The lawyer acting for the two deserters reportedly gets calls every day from
US soldiers looking for a way out of serving in Iraq.
And some US politicians have recently floated the notion of bringing back
the draft, a move Mr Hinzman warns would send a wave of deserters across the
border to join him.
"I think if that happens they might as well build housing developments here"
for draft dodgers, he said.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/07/06 13:47:42 GMT
© BBC MMIV
Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey have a refugee status hearing coming up.
If you want to urge Canada to grant them refugee status, the Prime Minister
Paul Martin can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Minister of Citizenship,
Judy Sgro, can be emailed at email@example.com