To Thine Ownself Be True

December 9th, 2004

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Draft-age Americans and their kin will no doubt be interested in the fate of Jeremy Hinzman, a former paratrooper who deserted from the 82 nd Airborne Division after his application as a non-combatant conscientious objector was turned down. Mr. Hinzman is now in Canada seeking asylum. He is arguing that U.S. soldiers committed war crimes in Iraq, and he would likely have been compelled to do so had he not deserted. To succeed in his claim, he will have to convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that he has a well-founded fear of persecution by the U.S. Government if he is forced to return to the U.S.Between 1965 and 1973, more than 50,000 draft-age Americans made their way to Canada, refusing to participate in an immoral war.

Under the leadership of then Prime-Minister Pierre Trudeau they were welcomed in Canada. Once again Canada must choose whether to grant asylum to those who follow their conscience and refuse to fight in the war in Iraq – a war which many believe to be illegal under international law.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone (including foreign nationals in their dealings with Canada) the freedom of conscience and religion. Should Mr. Hinzman’s asylum request be refused initially, he can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and eventually to the federal cabinet. The Canadian Supreme Court is considered progressive by some and radical by others.

It recently handed down an exquisite decision (Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, 2004 SCC 47) giving wide berth to the meaning of religious freedom in Canada. This augurs well for Mr. Hinzman and for many others who fear it is only a matter of time before the U.S. institutes a draft.

Blog written by David Cohen

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