In 2004, Jeremy Hinzman became the first war resister to seek asylum in Canada instead of going to fight in Iraq. On Wednesday, Canada’s Border Services Agency ordered the twenty-nine-year-old Hinzman, his wife, son and baby daughter to leave the country by Sept. 23. We speak to Jeremy Hinzman from Toronto. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Canadian government has ordered the deportation of a former US Army soldier who fled to Canada four years ago seeking refugee status. In 2004, Jeremy Hinzman became the first war resister to seek asylum in Canada instead of going to fight in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Canada’s Border Services Agency ordered the twenty-nine-year-old Hinzman, his wife, son and baby daughter to leave the country by September 23rd. His attorneys say they plan to appeal the deportation order. In 2005, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board rejected his claim for refugee status.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Hinzman faces up to five years in prison in the United States. Last month, the Canadian government deported another war resister, Robin Long, who is now serving a jail term in Colorado. Jeremy Hinzman joins us from Toronto, where we got to interview him four years ago, as well, when we broadcast in a simulcast with the CBC.
Jeremy, welcome to Democracy Now!
JEREMY HINZMAN: Thank you for having me. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Good to talk to you. Talk about the significance of this ruling. What does it mean for you and your family?
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, essentially, it turns our lives upside down. We, as you said, just had a baby. Our son knows nothing else aside from Canada. And if we do go back, which it’s looking like, I will undoubtedly be court-martialed and serve some time in jail.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Is there any appeal process left to you yet that might delay the September 23rd deadline?
JEREMY HINZMAN: There is. It’s not guaranteed that we’ll be granted leave to appeal, but if my lawyer can find errors in the compassionate and humanitarian decision that the Canadian Border Services rendered, then we can — we can appeal. But there’s no guarantee that the court will grant us leave.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what were the arguments the court used in rejecting your appeal?
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, in a compassionate and humanitarian case, you need to show that there would be undue hardship if you returned to your country of origin, and we — and you also need to show that you’ve been established in Canada and can live independently. And we did that. In the decision, the officer said we’ve established ourselves well in Canada. We haven’t been a hindrance to the social assistance programs. But he said that wasn’t enough for us to stay. He said the US has a fair justice system. My First Amendment right to free speech is protected. And they also mentioned that — for whatever reason, I don’t know — they mentioned George Bush’s No School Left Behind program to say that our son would be able to get a good education. I found that kind of humorous.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Hinzman, talk about how you arrived at this point. Talk about your decision to join the military and what happened next.
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, from the beginning, I joined the military for the reasons that most people do. There was probably a tinge of patriotism, a sense of adventure, and also, being from the lower middle class, I wanted to get some help with college.
When I went to basic training, I, you know, started chanting, "Trained to kill! Kill we will!" and realized over the three years that I was in the Army that I just couldn’t become a killer, because the Army screens out people with psychological problems, and it has normal, humane human beings come in, and in order to be a killer, you have to be able to desensitize yourself and dehumanize those who you’re going to kill. And I, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to do that, and so I applied for conscientious objector status. And when I did that, my command threw my application away. And I was made to reapply, and my application was subsequently turned down.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, then what happened?
JEREMY HINZMAN: So, after serving in Afghanistan, I came back to my unit, and it became apparent that we were going to come to Iraq. And I felt that since I had already acted within the provisions of the Army to try to remedy the situation, we had no other option but to refuse service and take a court-martial or go to Canada. And I felt that since, again, we had tried to work within the Army, it really wasn’t fair to take a court-martial at first.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Have you maintained ties with other US war resisters who are in Canada, who have gone there in recent years?
JEREMY HINZMAN: There are a number of us in Toronto, and I am acquainted with them. There’s a movement called the War Resisters Support Campaign that’s been active pretty much since we got here, and we have meetings, and there’s been a lot of lobbying in support of us. And on June 3rd, the Canadian parliament passed a nonbinding motion by a vote of 137-to-110 saying that US war resisters should be able to remain in Canada. However, the conservative government is refusing to enact the legislation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Canada, of course, has a long history of giving refugee status to resisters from American wars. Obviously, during the Vietnam War, there were many who went there. How would you characterize the difference between this government’s treatment of war resisters and what you know of past times?
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, during the Vietnam era, of course, Pierre Trudeau, who was a liberal, was in power, and he famously stated — at least up here — that Canada should be a haven from militarism, and that kind of opened the floodgates for American soldiers to come to Canada. I think 50,000 eventually settled here.
Right now, there’s a conservative minority government. Canada has a parliamentary system, and they hold the balance of power. And I wouldn’t say they’re lapdogs to the US, but they share many of the same values of the Bush administration and aren’t really sympathetic to what we’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Hinzman, right around Independence Day here in the United States, we got news from Canada about a victory for US war resisters. I thought, perhaps, for people like you, Canada’s federal court ruling that the Immigration and Refugee Board should reconsider the asylum claim of conscientious objector and Iraq war veteran Joshua Key — the court ruled he had been forced to systematically violate the Geneva Conventions as part of his military service in Iraq and that such misconduct amounts to a legitimate refugee claim. Why the difference in how Joshua was treated and you?
JEREMY HINZMAN: It could simply be luck of the draw, or they could be differentiating because he served in Iraq and I didn’t. Josh wrote a book called The Deserter’s Tale that elaborates all the atrocities that he was forced to commit and be a part of while he was in Iraq. And I think that probably helped, as well. Each case is handled individually by the Refugee Board, so any decision rendered in his case isn’t necessarily going to affect other resisters.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What’s been the reaction of your fellow resisters to this latest decision? And are there others that are coming up for hearings soon?
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, there are still new resisters coming here; on a monthly basis, we get one or two. Of course, being the first, I think my case is looked at a little closely, and there’s probably a bit of trepidation about what lies in store for all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Your experience in Afghanistan, Jeremy?
JEREMY HINZMAN: When I was in Afghanistan, my conscientious objector application was being processed, so I just served in a noncombatant role working with Halliburton workers in the kitchen, breaking down rations and doing dishes and chopping potatoes and stuff like that.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you going to do? Are you leaving?
JEREMY HINZMAN: It looks that way. We’re going to, I guess, use whatever avenues we can to appeal, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to do much good, despite the fact that opinion polls have showed that two-thirds of Canadians think we should be allowed to stay. Again, the motion in parliament said we should be allowed to stay. But the conservative government’s really against this, and I think they’re trying to do everything in their power to fix what they don’t like about Canada before a coming federal election here, because their hold on power is endangered.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremy Hinzman, I want to thank you very much for being with us, US war resister who fled to Canada in 2004.