Vigil supports American soldier

  • May 31, 2010
Jeremy Hinzman, the first American soldier to claim refugee status in Canada rather than serve in Iraq, at a prayer vigil in Toronto with his daughter Meghan, before his March 25 hearing before the Federal Court. As Jeremy Hinzman faced final judgment on whether Canada would keep him, Parliament began debate on a bill that would force the government to respect the conscience of U.S. soldiers like Hinzman who fled to Canada rather than fight in Iraq.

The Federal Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on legal issues underpinning Hinzman’s application for humanitarian and compassionate leave to remain in Canada despite a 2008 deportation order. The court’s decision on Hinzman’s case could take months.

In 2004 Hinzman was the first of about 200 U.S. war resisters to claim refugee status in Canada rather than serve in Iraq. Since the war was never sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, American conscientious objectors have sought refugee status based on claims they are being forced to participate in an illegal war.

Members of Pax Christi Toronto (formerly Catholics for Peace - Toronto) held a vigil in support of Hinzman, his wife Nga Nguyen, his son Liam and his Toronto-born daughter Meghan May 19. The Catholic peace group also protested outside the Federal Court of Appeal in downtown Toronto May 25, the day of Hinzman’s hearing.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a May 7 letter, has asked Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to cease efforts to deport Hinzman. In 2008 Kenney told a Conservative party convention U.S. conscientious objectors in Canada are “bogus refugee claimants.”

“Being a deserter from voluntary military service in a democracy does not, in any way, meet the standard international definition of a refugee,” said Kenney April 13 this year. “We’re not going to contort the refugee laws to suit some people’s agenda.”

Kenney is behind aggressive efforts to deport conscientious objectors, Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy told The Catholic Register. Calling the conscientious objectors “cowards” and “deserters” the government has defied two votes by the House of Commons calling on the government to allow U.S. soldiers to remain in Canada if they can’t, in conscience, serve in Iraq, he said.

Kennedy has introduced a Bill C-440 to force the government to create a separate category of refugees for conscientious objectors to the Iraq war. C-440, reached second reading and debate in Parliament May 25. Without firm direction from Parliament, Immigration and Refugee Board members will always rule against U.S. war resisters to please the government, said Kennedy.

“The IRB are all political appointments, and that’s the problem,” said Kennedy. He criticized his own party for setting up the political appointment system at the IRB.

In debate over Kennedy’s bill, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre claimed the IRB was fully independent.

“The Liberals have said that U.S. military deserters, or as they call them, war resisters, should be granted refugee status even though the independent Immigration and Refugee Board has rejected all deserter claims as bogus,” Poilievre said.

Speaking to the vigil gathering at Toronto’s Peace Garden, Nga Nguyen Hinzman said she and her husband have no regrets about coming to Canada despite living under threat of deportation for the last two years.

“We want to raise our children in a society that will not imprison their father for refusing to kill another human being. We want to raise our children in a society that upholds the sacredness of life higher than a human contract,” she said.

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