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US deserter seeks Canada asylum
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto
Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 23:17 GMT

A US army deserter has begun making his case for political refugee status so he can stay in Canada.

Jeremy Hinzman, 25, is the first of three US deserters to appear before a refugee and immigration board in the city of Toronto, seeking asylum.

The paratrooper served in Afghanistan but left the US for Canada after his unit was ordered into Iraq last year.

Mr Hinzman, who took his wife and son with him to Toronto, says he believes the US-led war in Iraq is illegal.

Prisoner abuse

He said: "If you're given an illegal or immoral order, it's your duty and obligation to refuse it. I felt the order to Iraq went under that."

Mr Hinzman's lawyer is presenting what he says is evidence of US war crimes in Iraq at the hearing.

And a lobby group campaigning on Mr Hinzman's behalf argues that he was merely obeying international law by refusing to fight in Iraq because the United Nations never authorised the use of force there.

But immigration experts point out that Mr Hinzman voluntarily signed up to join the US army in January 2001, knowing that it might involve service overseas.

No American citizen has ever made a successful refugee claim in Canada, although it is thought the prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq may help his case.

If Mr Hinzman loses his bid to win asylum in Canada, he faces deportation to the US and up to five years in prison for desertion.