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U.S. army deserter cites discrimination in refugee claim

A U.S. army deserter should be allowed to remain in Canada as a refugee, her lawyer argued to the Federal Court here yesterday.

A U.S. army deserter should be allowed to remain in Canada as a refugee, her lawyer argued to the Federal Court here yesterday.

Two years ago today, Bethany Smith came into Canada to avoid persecution after leaving the U.S. army.

Smith left the army after she was “harshly mistreated and physically abused for being an out lesbian,” she said. “I was facing harassment and death threats because of my sexual orientation.”

After her request for a discharge was denied, she came to Canada to escape what she describes as “daily humiliations” and “constant threats of physical violence.”

Because she left the U.S. army while the country was in a status of war, she became a deserter in the time of war.

Now a 21-year-old claimant refugee, Smith, who is originally from Texas, is hoping to get refugee status and eventually, a Canadian citizenship.

“She faced harassment and death threats from members of her base,” said Smith’s lawyer, Jamie Liew. “Her human rights would be violated if she returned to the base.”

While the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB) rejected her refugee claim last November, a Federal Court judge is reviewing the decision to see if it is reasonable or not, Liew said.

If the judge finds the IRB’s ruling to be reasonable, Smith will have to look at other options to remain in Canada, and possibly take the case to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Smith believes there is no way she can safely return to the U.S., where she said she will face further persecution or jail time for charges of desertion and absence without leave.

While other U.S. deserters were rejected refugee status, Smith said she “hopes to be the first.”

While Smith’s appeal hearing is seen by supporters as an opportunity to uphold Canada’s commitment to civil liberties and freedom of expression, to Smith, it’s a way for her to stay in the country she loves.

“I’m so happy in Canada, I feel accepted here,” she said.

 
 
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