Canadian Court Rules U.S. Deserter Can Stay in Canada for Now

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A U.S. soldier who fled for Canada after learning his unit was to be deployed to Iraq has won a last-minute stay of deportation.

A Canadian Federal Court judge said Monday that Jeremy Hinzman can stay in Canada while the court decides whether he can appeal his deportation order. A reason for the stay wasn't immediately given.

Hinzman, a 29-year-old Army specialist, was due to be deported Tuesday to the U.S., where he would face prosecution for fleeing to Canada rather than deploying to Iraq. He had served three years in the Army and was one of the first U.S. deserters to seek refugee status in Canada since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

About 200 American deserters are believed to have come to Canada trying to avoid service in Iraq. So far, Canadian immigration officials and the courts have rejected efforts to grant them refugee status.

In July, Robin Long became the first U.S. resister to the Iraq war to be removed by Canadian authorities. Last month, Long, 25, was sentenced to 15 months in a U.S. military prison.

Canada has refused Hinzman's family's application to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds.

Hinzman asked for the stay while the court decides whether it will review that decision.

"It could be a few weeks or it could be a few months," said Michelle Orbidoux of The War Resisters Support Campaign, a Toronto-based organization that supports U.S. soldiers who flee to Canada. "It's very temporary. As much as it is a relief it's still just one small step on this road."

Hinzman is likely to face a military trial if he returns to the United States and could face up to five years in prison. Last month, Canada's Border Services Agency ordered him to leave the country by Sept. 23.

Before he fled Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January 2004, Hinzman had already served a tour of duty with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. He served in a non-combat position because he applied for conscientious objector status before his unit deployed in 2002.

In December 2003, the unit was ordered to Iraq, but he left for Canada with his wife and son shortly thereafter. He has said he refused to participate in what he calls an immoral and illegal war.

Canada's Border Services agency said he would not face any undue hardship if he was deported.

The Immigration and Refugee Board rejected his claim for refugee status in 2005 and the Federal Court of Appeal held that he would not face any serious punishment if he returned to the United States.

Hinzman, who said he realized after joining the Army that he could not bring himself to kill any one, took his pleas to the Supreme Court of Canada, which refused to hear the case.

During the Vietnam War, up to 90,000 Americans successfully won refuge in Canada, most of them to avoid the military draft. The majority went home after the United States granted amnesty in the late 1970s. Many also were given permanent residence status in Canada that eventually resulted in citizenship.