Canada set to rule on U.S. Army refugee

March 24, 2005

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is scheduled to release its decision on Jeremy Hinzman's application for political refugee status.

The case is being closely watched as it will directly affect at least 8, and possibly more, U.S. military deserters in Canada, and could further strain relations between Washington, D.C. and Ottawa.

Hinzman's application was heard at a three-day immigration hearing in December. At the hearing he argued that he fled to Canada to avoid military service in Iraq in an illegal war, possibly making his participation a war crime under the Nuremberg tribunals. The U.S. Army has declared Hinzman "Absent Without Leave" (AWOL), and said he would face charges as a deserter which include the possibility of the death penalty.

"My life isn't that significant, but it's also not so worthless to be killed or go kill innocent people," said Hinzman.

Canada has accepted refugees in the past fleeing compulsory military service, but as Hinzman volunteered to serve this case is breaking new ground.

Hinzman is a practicing Buddhist, and applied for conscientious objector status in the Army in 2002 before his unit was ordered to Afghanistan. His application was rejected and he was ordered to ship out to Iraq in late 2003. At that time he and his family fled from his North Carolina base for Canada (his wife, Nga Nguyen, is also seeking asylum.)

The Immigration and Refugee Board's decision is expected Thursday afternoon on their website, and will not be announced publicly.