September 23, 2008

Late-inning reprieve for U.S. deserter

Court pauses deportation order so ex-paratrooper with wife, two kids in Toronto can pursue appeal
Sep 23, 2008 04:30 AM

Staff Reporter

War resister Jeremy Hinzman has won a temporary reprieve to stay in Canada.

Hinzman, the first U.S. Army deserter to file for refugee status in Canada, will not be returned for the time being, which means for the moment at least he avoids prosecution for desertion, his lawyer Alyssa Manning said last night.

"We're elated," said Hinzman, 29. ``But we're by no means out of the woods yet.''

The next challenge Hinzman faces is winning leave to appeal his case to the Federal Court. "But we won't find that out for a couple of months," said the South Dakota native who lives in Parkdale with his wife and two children.

Hinzman was due to be deported today. His reprieve came after his lawyer argued to the Federal Court yesterday that an immigration officer had incorrectly assessed the hardships he and his family would face if forced to return to the U.S.

Manning told the court that expert evidence suggests U.S. soldiers who have spoken out against the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion have been facing more punishment than other deserters.

Crown attorney Stephen Gold called this "speculation and surmise" but Justice Richard Mosley ruled that a stay in Hinzman's deportation order was appropriate.

Hinzman, who has worked in the past as a bike courier in Toronto, says he and his wife, Nga Nguyen, and children, Liam, 6, and 2-month-old Meghan, have been living off their savings in recent months. "When our compassionate and humanitarian application was turned down, my work permit was revoked (in August) ... We have a little bit (of money) so we've been okay," he said.

At the Toronto hearing yesterday "the judge said if our family was to be separated, that would be irreparable harm," said Hinzman, as he held his baby at Friends House, a Quaker centre on Lowther Ave. in Toronto.

He said he volunteered to go to war: "I wanted to make a better life for myself and my family."

The Rapid City, S.D., native joined the 82nd Airborne in January 2001. Three years later, he went AWOL and fled to Toronto just before his unit was scheduled to leave for Iraq.

After 2 1/2 years in the military, "I knew I wasn't a killer," he said. He was assigned to a non-combat role during a tour in Afghanistan.

With files from The Canadian Press

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