- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

MONTREAL — A U.S. paratrooper’s application for asylum has set Canada’s editorial pages, airwaves and Internet discussion boards abuzz with debates over whether the country should offer sanctuary to U.S. military deserters seeking to avoid serving in Iraq.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board is expected to rule in February in the case of Spc. Jeremy Hinzman, a 26-year-old South Dakotan who fled to Canada along with his wife and 2-year-old child.

“He has no grounds to remain here and should be promptly returned to his homeland,” argues an editorial in Canada’s conservative daily the National Post.

Peter Worthington, an influential columnist with the Toronto Sun tabloid and a veteran of World War II and Korea, came to the same conclusion.

“I think Canada should send him home to deal with the consequences of his decisions,” Mr. Worthington wrote in a column headlined, “Deserter is not a draft dodger.”

But a majority of callers to the Radio Noon call-in show at CBC Radio in Quebec thought that U.S. deserters should be allowed to stay in Canada. Radio Noon producer Susan McKenzie says most of the program’s listeners opposed the war in Iraq, calling it “illegal.”

On Internet discussion boards, Canada is often derided as “Soviet Canuckistan” and Canadians are accused of undermining the war on terror by sheltering U.S. deserters. Canadians remind their U.S. interlocutors that between 1939 and 1941, while Canada was at war with Nazi Germany, the United States accepted hundreds of Canadian deserters, no questions asked. In something of an exchange, dozens of other Americans joined the Canadian air force for reassignment to the Royal Air Force during this period.

Despite the emotionally charged nature of the debate, there is no large-scale movement across the border, such as was the case during the Vietnam War, when Canada opened its doors to tens of thousands of American draft dodgers.

Canadian media have reported the cases of two other deserters — Brandon Hughey of the Army’s 1st Cavalry and David Sanders of the Navy — who face hearings before the immigration board in January. A fourth deserter, 23-year-old Daniel Felushko, has dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship and is automatically allowed to stay in Canada.

Serge Arsenault, a spokesman for the Immigration and Refugee Board, refused on the basis of privacy laws to say how many U.S. deserters have cases before the tribunal. Unconfirmed reports have put the total as high as eight.

Still, Spc. Hinzman’s much-publicized case has rekindled memories of the Vietnam migration, in which an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 draft dodgers came and stayed in Canada.

As with that war, the Iraq conflict is highly unpopular with large segments of the Canadian public.

Unlike the war in Afghanistan, where Canadians fought alongside U.S. forces — Canada’s crack anti-terrorist unit received the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation just two weeks ago — most Canadians regard the Iraq war as unjustified.

A vociferous anti-war movement has grown up and has embraced U.S. deserters as a cause celebre.

Spc. Hinzman and Mr. Hughey have appeared at dozens of anti-war events across Canada. Influential left-wing intellectuals and artists have called on the government to grant asylum to U.S. deserters who oppose serving in what they call the “illegal war in Iraq.”

The public debate is expected to have little impact on the ruling of the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent administrative tribunal that decides on refugee claims.

Mr. Arsenault says that under the Geneva conventions, all refugee claimants have to prove a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

“But Mr. Hinzman does not fall into this category,” the National Post noted in its editorial. “He is a common deserter.

“He may face charges in the United States for failing to honor the oath he took as a paratrooper. But he can still expect a fair trial, due process and humane treatment.”

Despite its reputation for a liberal immigration policy, Canada’s immigration laws have tightened considerably since the Vietnam War. Vietnam draft dodgers were allowed to stay in Canada while their applications for permanent resident status were being considered by immigration authorities. Nowadays, would-be immigrants have to wait in their home countries while their applications are processed.

The United States could also apply for the extradition of the deserters, an option that was not open with Vietnam-era draft dodgers because Canada had no draft. Desertion, however, is a crime in Canada as it is in the United States, and Patrick Charette, a spokesman for Canada’s Department of Justice, says it is specifically covered in Canada-U.S. extradition treaties.

Canada has received no extradition request from the United States, Mr. Charette says.

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