Two U.S. Army deserters who fled to Canada and sought refugee status on grounds of their opposition to the war in Iraq have lost their bids to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear their cases.

The court refused Thursday to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, who deserted the army in 2004 after learning their units were to be deployed to Iraq to fight in a war they have called immoral and illegal.

The ruling deals a major blow to Americans who have fled to Canada rather than fight a war they claim commits atrocities against civilians. Jeffry House, the lawyer who is defending Hinzman, Hughey and about 40 other U.S. military deserters, believes there are as many as 300 other American war resisters hiding in Canada who were counting on the Supreme Court's decision.

"None of these cases are helped by today's decision and some of them are substantially harmed. I'm not able to say every single case is lost, but a good number of them are," House said.

As is usual, the court did not provide a reason for its decision.

"It very disappointing that the Supreme Court doesn't wish to weigh in on this," House said. "The Supreme Court essentially avoided dealing with the issue."

Hinzman and Hughey applied for refugee status in 2004. Hinzman, who had argued that he would have been taking part in war crimes if he had been deployed with his unit, claimed he would be persecuted if forced to return to the United States.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board rejected their claims in 2005, ruling that they would not be at risk of "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment" if they returned to the United States.

Canada's Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal also refused to review the cases.

"(My clients) are basically taking the same position as Canada did regarding the war," House said. "There's a strong chance that they will be sent to jail if they return to the U.S and people should not be sent to jail for standing up for what they believe in."

Canada opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and did not send troops.

The Pentagon has urged the deserters to return to the United States and take up their concerns at their respective military bases.

Without conventional refugee status, the two men have no legal basis to be in Canada.

Hinzman, 28, fled from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January 2004, weeks before his 82nd Airborne Division was to be deployed to Iraq. He had served three years in the Army, but had applied for conscientious objector status before his unit was sent in 2002 to Afghanistan, where he served in a non-combat position after applying for CO status.

Hinzman lives with his wife and young son in Toronto, where Quakers and anti-war groups have taken on his cause. The War Resisters Support Campaign supporters planned to demonstrate Thursday in front of the U.S. Consulate in Toronto.

Hughey, 22, was part of the 1st Cavalry in Fort Hood, Texas, and fled to Canada in March 2004.

Both would face jail time if convicted of desertion.

House, who came to Canada in 1970 as a draft dodger during the Vietnam War, said 30,000 to 50,000 Americans fled to Canada during the Vietnam War years and were allowed to settle here, but Hinzman would have become the first American soldier to be granted political asylum in the country.

"Today's decision means that the situation is urgent for the many others seeking refugee status," said Lee Zaslofsky, coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign. "It's time to get Canada's parliament to act in a way that Canadians believe in — that the war is wrong and not wanting to fight in it is a person's right."