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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Unjust Deserter

Recently, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada turned down the application of Jeremy Hinzman for refugee status. Jeremy Hinzman is an American soldier who went AWOL from his unit in Iraq and came here to Canada with his family. His claim was that if he were to be sent home, he would be court martialed and possibly be incarcerated. In the morning local paper that I read on the bus on the way to work, an immigration lawyer, Guidy Mamann, weighed in on the issue.
What remains unanswered is, from a Canadian public policy point of view, what a foreign soldier is expected to do when faced with having to fight a war he believes to be illegal and which offends his conscience.
Actually, nothing at all remains unanswered. The simple question which the Immigration Board had to answer was, is this person a refugee or not? As is clear as day to anyone with a minimum of common sense, the answer is no. As Mr. Mamman mentions, the Immigration Board took 69 pages to explain why. That being the case, if he is not a refugee, then, legally speaking, he must apply like any other immigrant. Mr. Mamman, being an immigration lawyer, knows this very well. So, what is a soldier expected to do in such a situation? That's not Canada's problem to solve! Besides, I find people like Jeremy Hinzman insulting. They are insulting to me as a Canadian since it makes a mockery of my country's laws by turning it into a political issue. The US is a free country with just laws and a decent justice system, their army included. If someone freely volunteers for the army they should expect that they may be sent to war. And if they do not like that war and go AWOL, then it is their responsibility to face those consequences and stop insulting our collective intelligence by claiming refugee status.
It is clear to me that our leaders do not want to anger our friends to the south who, after all, pick up a big part of the cost of defending our shared continent. Accordingly, they refuse to make and pronounce public policy that defines who we are as a people.
So, that is it, huh? If our political heads do not welcome this person (either by considering him a "refugee" or making up some other provision that will allow him to stay) then we are not defining ourselves as Canadian? Does that make sense? But this is all moot, and Mr. Mamman knows it. If Jeremy Hiznman is not a refugee (which he isn't) then he cannot take refuge here. Period. Political statements will serve no purpose other than to show how anti American those officials are.
Instead, they let a refugee hearing become the arena for public debate of a major social issue. In one corner is a bewildered 25-year-old young man and his counsel. On the other is the minister's counsel, armed with a preliminary ruling that Hinzman is not allowed to challenge the legality of the war. Deciding the issue for the rest of us is a relatively unknown and faceless bureaucrat.
They let it become an arena for a political (no, its not a social) issue? Um, what do you think Mr. Hinzman and his lawyer were doing? Just trying to claim refugee status? No, it was that plus a definite political statement to protest against the war in Iraq. The official website that supports Mr. Hinzman makes this quite clear. Also, his lawyer was not allowed to challenge the legality of the war for two very good reasons. For starters, it is irrelevant. What is relevant is if he is considered a refugee. If he faces persecution or bodily harm if he is sent home, then he should be considered a refugee. Since the US is a free democratic country where one can expect justice, the army included, then he should not be considered a refugee. Whether the war was legal or not is immaterial to that fact. The second reason is that the Immigration Board has no authority nor ability to judge what wars are considered legal or not. The US government is not on trial here.


  • Avrom:

    Let’s change the facts.

    Let us suppose that this was a nice German boy who volunteered to join the German army in ... say .... 1932. Hitler comes to power and tells this young man that he is going to serve in a concentration camp. The soldier says no as he has heard of rumors of what is going on there and he comes to Canada.

    What, should our policy be? Is he Germany's problem, or is he a righteous gentile?

    If international law doesn’t matter, then hey what the heck, go to the camp and do whatever you are told.

    Clearly the fact that this soldier volunteered can't be dispositive of the issue.

    I suggest that we be careful with what we wish. We just might get it!

    The last thing in the world I want is for Canada to endorse the notion of a soldier being able to get away with the statement "I was just following orders". Instead, we should encourage them to think about what they are doing, and help them to adopt a morally superior position.

    Whenever, given the choice, we Jews must always opt for a choice that favors life rather than death or the possibility of causing it.

    My wife's parents lost virtually every relative they had in the Shoah in Poland and Hungary. Those who died "al Kiddush H'" were killed by people who were just doing what they were told. I am not a proponent of such a position.

    I hope you will not for an instant think that I am comparing our American friends and staunch allies of Israel to Nazi Germany.

    I am simply trying to make the point that this particular soldier joined to defend his country. He was told to attack another country and possibly cause death that, in his mind, was unnecessary to the defense of his country. He didn’t want to cause death or pain for such a cause. We may not agree with him but we should respect him and give him a chance to fulfill his obligation to the US in a manner that is more constructive than sitting in jail for a few years. He asked to be excused but was denied the opportunity.

    Would you be prepared to kill someone for something you simply don't believe in?


    By Blogger The Boss, at 7:10 PM  

  • See, the problem with changing the facts is that in doing so, you change the ground rules for your argument.

    What is at stake here is the abuse of Canada's refugee policy. Instead of it being used for genuine refugees, we now have these people coming here trying to claim refugee status because they were foolish enough not to realize that volunteering for an army means the possibility of being sent to a war which you may not like. Even worse than that is the obviously transparent agenda which is that they are using it as a means to protest the war in Iraq. What a slap in the face of America it would be if Canada accepted its soldiers as refugees!

    That being the case, I prefer to look at this in a rational manner. Is this person a refugee? Obviously not!

    Now, let us look at your analogy. In your example of the hypothetical soldier, if he were to be sent back to Nazi Germany, would he receive justice? Knowing what we know about Nazi Germany, the end result would probably be that that soldier would find himself on the prisoner end of the concentration camp. In other words, in such a case, this person would be considered a refugee.

    Talking about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, reminds me of the other reason why I find this case insulting. During WWII, Canada, nor any other allied country, had a refugee policy like we do today. If they had, countless lives might have been saved. Now, thank G-d, there is a good refugee policy. However, this fool comes along and calls himself a refugee? Its a chutzpah!

    Did you know that a few years ago an Israeli claimed refugee status because he would have to serve in the Israeli army?

    As to your last question, would I be prepared to fight and kill for something I didn't beleive in? Of course not. And, to make the same point as a guest columnist in the Toronto Star made, that's why I didn't join the army.

    By Blogger Avrom, at 6:02 PM  

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