Since the war in Iraq began, dozens of U.S. military deserters have come to Canada. Thanks to the Federal Court of Canada, that trickle may soon become a flood. The court’s decision in the case of Joshua Key — rendered on Friday — has so thoroughly dumbed down the criteria for refugee status in Canada that it is hard to think of any foreign combat veteran who would not be able to gin up a passable tale of woe.
Mr. Key enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. The next year, he was sent to Iraq, where he assisted in raids of Iraqi homes suspected of containing weapons caches or insurgents. As in all anti-insurgent campaigns, this sort of raid proved to be nasty business. Doors got smashed in; children got scared; women, caught without a veil or even a full set of clothing, felt humiliated. Sometimes, people even got hurt.
Much of this is unavoidable — even for a professional and (by international standards) humane army such as America’s. War, after all, is hell — a balancing of evils. Sometimes, a few residents are subject to humiliating searches so that the terrorists who seek to blow up the whole neighbourhood can be captured or killed.
This grim fact of war seems to have escaped the notice of Robert L. Barnes, who authored Friday’s decision. While the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) sensibly had rejected Mr. Key’s asylum application on the basis that the U.S. military had not sought his complicity in war crimes or crimes against humanity, Judge Barnes cocnluded that this was not where the line should be drawn. By his analysis, virtually any infraction of the Geneva Conventions — which, as any soldier can report, are daily violated 100 times over by even the most conscientious fighting force, including Canada’s — can be grounds for asylum.
This apparently includes the infractions Mr. Key witnessed during his home invasions in Iraq — including not only episodic instances of violence and looting, but also “intimidation” of households, “the absence of cultural sensitivity” in dealing with civilians, and “disrespect for human dignity.”
Forget Iraq. This is the sort of thing you can see on any episode of COPS.
By the loose standard Judge Barnes endorses, just about any soldier in any war could come to Canada and make an arguable claim for asylum. Even if an applicant loses, he will at least be able to hang out in Canada for a few years while his case is before the IRB, and then roll the dice a few more times at the appellate level, where he can hope for a soft-hearted judge to bail him out … a judge such as, say, Robert L. Barnes.
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