Washington Report, January/February 2006, pages 46-47
American Conscientious Objector Wins Right to Appeal Refugee Board Ruling
By Faisal Kutty
A FEDERAL court in Toronto has agreed to hear an appeal from an American soldier turned down for refugee status in Canada after refusing to serve in Iraq. If he is sent back to the U.S., Jeremy Hinzman faces a court martial and the possibility of up to five years in jail as a deserter.
Hinzman joined the elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne, about three years ago. He served in a noncombat role in Afghanistan and was later turned down by the military brass as a conscientious objector. When, on his subsequent return to the U.S., he learned that he would be deployed in Iraq, he decided to cross the border into Canada in early 2004. He is currently living in Toronto with his wife, Nga Nguyen, and son, Liam.
The Rapid City, South Dakota native believes that the U.S. attack on Iraq is illegal under international law and that he would be a party to war crimes if he participated.
In March 2005, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board turned down Hinzman’s refugee claim. The former soldier’s lawyer, Jeffrey House, had argued that the 27-year-old Hinzman would be punished for acting on his conscience.
The board, however, found that Hinzman did not qualify as a conscientious objector. The adjudicator also held that he was not convinced that the ex-soldier would face persecution in the U.S. if forced to return. The board, which has never accepted a refugee from the United States, has stated in the past that America is not a “refugee producing” country.
In denying Hinzman’s claim, the adjudicator opined that the legal status of the war in Iraq had no bearing on the case. One of the issues on which Hinzman’s appeal is based is the question of whether this decision not to consider the legality of the war amounted to an error in law.
The politically sensitive case is being closely monitored by authorities in Canada and the U.S. Indeed, the case has become the proverbial public relations “hot potato” for American authorities. At the hearing, a former U.S. Marine testifying in Hinzman’s support stated that American soldiers in Iraq routinely violated international law by killing unarmed women, children and other Iraqi civilians.
Canadian supporters say that hundreds of U.S. soldiers may be in the country and that at least 20 of them are trying to gain refugee status. Profiles of a few of them are available online at <http://www.resisters.ca/resisters_stories.html>.
Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign called the federal court ruling a “real breakthrough” for U.S. resisters. “This is very good,” Zaslofsky told the press. “It will have an impact on all the other cases.”
The matter will be heard by Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington on Feb. 7 in Toronto. According to attorney House, if his arguments are successful the court likely will refer the matter back to the board (to a different adjudicator or panel) for further consideration. Justice Harrington may also provide specific instructions on dealing with the contested issues, House said, principally the legality of the war in Iraq.
“The best possible outcome,” he said, “is that we get a full hearing in which all our arguments are considered.”
Both House and Zaslofsky are Vietnam-era war resisters who settled in Canada.
A new film on war resisters, “Let Them Stay,” will screen in Toronto on Dec. 10. The film, narrated by Shirley Douglas and produced and directed by Alex Lisman, features one-on-one interviews with U.S. war resisters, documenting their life-changing experiences in Iraq and the hidden realities of U.S. military recruitment and warfare. It also documents the War Resisters Support Campaign, a pan-Canadian coalition working with the war resisters to put pressure on the federal government to allow these former soldiers to remain in the country.
A number of resisters, including Darrell Anderson, Patrick and Jill Hart, Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, and Ryan and Jen Johnson will attend the premiere.
Ode to a Canadian Friend of Palestine, Jim Graff (1937-2005)
James Graff, a professor of moral and political philosophy at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College for 40 years, died of cancer Oct. 23, 2005. Shortly before his death, he helped organize the Sabeel conference on morally responsible investment held in Toronto Oct. 26 to 29 (see report on p. 60 of this issue). Born in East Orange, NJ, he earned his B.A. at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and his master’s and Ph.D. from Brown University. A longtime activist on behalf of the Palestinian cause, in 1984 he established the Near East Cultural and Education Foundation of Canada (NECEF), which, beginning in 1986, he represented for 10 years on the North American Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine. Graff served as vice chair of that organization as well, which met at U.N. headquarters in New York, except for two meetings in Montreal and Toronto, Canada that he initiated. The author of Palestinian Children and Israeli State Violence, he was a prime mover of and inspiration to Canada’s peace and justice community. He is survived by his wife, Aida, daughter, Noha, son, Hani, and his brother.
October 24, 2005
It is with sorrow and sadness that I learn that you left us to claim your eternal resting place in the heavens, Jim. It is difficult to conceive of a solidarity movement and activism in Toronto without you. Indeed it is difficult to imagine Canada without Jim. Soon after I came to Canada and found my way through its web of activism and solidarity fury that came about in support of the Palestinian intifada of December 1987, I heard your name. I arrived in Canada a few days after the intifada began. In Toronto, an intifada of solidarity was brewing and you were at the core of it.
I saw you speak many times, read your articles and enjoyed a cigarette and a drink with you once or twice. It was not until 1991 at York University where you spoke about Palestine and I had the privilege of introducing you that I realized that you are no ordinary man. Ever since, I have been a great admirer of yours. It is difficult to exaggerate the tremendous impact that you had on me personally, but more importantly on the question of Palestine. Your seminal work, Palestinian Children and Israeli State Violence, was a ground-breaking chronicle of the impact on children of Israeli occupation and Israeli soldiers’ behaviors.
Whether in Toronto, doing your many things, or in New York attending the United Nations North American NGO conference on Palestine, or in Gaza or Ramallah visiting with friends and many projects you created and supported, you have been one of this country’s most faithful supporters of Palestine, justice and human rights.
For that we Palestinians are most fortunate—indeed, very lucky to have had you as one of our supporters.
Jim, we may have been less grateful than you truly deserve. We did not tell you enough how much we admired your undying love for justice and human rights. Often, some of us were disgraceful in their disagreements with you. But today all of us are in mourning. As many of us often joked, you, Jim, have been Toronto’s best Palestinian.
Your gentle passion and eloquent commitment to Palestine remarkably moved many of us in the Palestinian Arab community. We will miss your presence on countless planning committees for conferences, like the upcoming Sabeel conference on divestment. We will miss you bringing to Toronto and introducing stellar speakers like Noam Chomsky and your final guest on Oct. 3, David Barsamian. I am delighted that I had the chance to see you that evening and shake your hand. You did say you were not well. I only regret not knowing how ill you were. I probably would have told you, in addition to I love you, thank you.
Thank you for every meeting you attended on behalf of Palestine and for Palestinians, for every lecture you delivered, for each speaker you brought from Palestine and the world over and for hosting receptions for them at your house. Thank you for every intervention you made at the U.N. during the meetings of the coordinating committee of the North American NGO on Palestine. Thanks for every page you wrote. For every book you reviewed, every newsletter you edited, thank you. For every dollar you raised for Palestine, simply thank you.
I will miss many things about you for sure, Jim. But most of all I will miss your tender walk and your cane; I will miss your trademark shirts with many pockets. I will miss your spectacles and blond mustache.
Surely, Jim, there is much much more to you than your work on Palestine. Today, however, I want to claim you as ours and only ours.
Your family lost a beloved husband and father. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, especially with Aida.
With your passing Palestine has lost a friend, a champion, a human giant and a passionate lover. I will remember you with a smile each time I am part of a planning committee for an event on Palestine. Jim, our next meeting on the “Made in Palestine” art project is in two weeks. You attended the first two, and I know you will be with us until the end.
Jim, Palestinians should—I hope we will—name a mountain after you in Palestine.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Board Member, Muslim Canadian Congress, Toronto