Last Monday, the Federal Court of Canada released a decision reaffirming there is evidence that war resisters are targets of punishment because of their political beliefs if forced to return to the United States.
The judgment in the judicial review of US war resister and veteran Chris Vassey's case found the Immigration and Refugee Board's "lack of analysis of the evidence before it concerning the independence and impartiality of the US court-martial system, as well as the lack of reasons for preferring contrary evidence to that of the applicant to be unreasonable."
This is the tenth Federal Court or Federal Court of Appeal decision since 2008 in favour of US war resisters who are seeking permanent resident status in Canada. It is also the eighth Federal Court decision to recognize that war resisters are singled out for more severe punishment because they have expressed objections to war.
In his July 18 decision concerning Chris Vassey, The Honourable André F.J. Scott criticized the IRB, writing that it "largely ignored the evidence ... about similarly situated individuals and prosecutorial discretion" and that "where prosecutorial discretion is used to inflict a disproportionately severe punishment on a deserter because of his or her political opinion, this may amount to persecution. . . . The Court finds that the Board's failure to assess the evidence before it concerning the application of prosecutorial discretion on the grounds of political opinion was unreasonable."
Justice Scott further found that the IRB was "under a duty to consider the evidence before it and address that which conflicted with its conclusions" but its "failure to do so with respect to the issue of applicable defences to the charge of desertion in US court-martial proceedings was unreasonable."
This means Chris will have a new IRB hearing before a new Board member.
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On a personal note, I had the opportunity to hear Chris' IRB hearing (Allan and I transcribed it for his lawyer) and I attended the Federal Court hearing that resulted in this decision, so I'm very familiar with the details of his case. Chris was a proud soldier and veteran who worked hard and believed in the justness of the cause. The heinous behaviour of the US military wrenched all that from him. To continue to serve, Chris would have had to murder his own conscience. He could no longer participate in the war, but there was no legal way for him to leave it. His only option was desertion.
Like many of my war resister friends, Chris has suffered hardships since coming to Canada, especially being separated from his family during times of bereavement and other serious crises. It isn't easy.
The large majority of Canadians support US war resisters in Canada and believe they should be allowed to stay. It's obvious the IRB process is politicized and stacked against them from the start. The Federal Court of Canada has consistently ruled in their favour. It's time to Let Them Stay.