Refugee board to reconsider case of lesbian deserter from U.S. army

A lesbian who deserted from the U.S. army and fled to Canada must have another chance to plead her case for refugee status, the Federal Court ruled Friday.

OTTAWA — A lesbian who deserted from the U.S. army and fled to Canada must have another chance to plead her case for refugee status, the Federal Court ruled Friday.

Judge Yves de Montigny says the board erred last February when it rejected Bethany Smith’s bid for refugee status.

Smith says she fled the army because she was harassed and threatened by fellow soldiers over her sexual orientation. She told of hundreds of threatening notes pinned to her barracks door, including a death threat.

She testified she was stationed at the same base where, in 1999, a gay male soldier been beaten to death as he slept. The note threatened her with the same fate.

She said she tried to get out of the army by revealing her sexual orientation. Under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the U.S. military, homosexuals can serve as long as they forgo sexual acts and keep their orientation to themselves. Those who speak up are normally discharged. But Smith said the army shrugged off her confession, saying the paperwork to discharge her wouldn’t be ready until after her next rotation to Afghanistan.

The judge said the board must reconsider her case because it unfairly dismissed evidence suggesting gays face harassment and brutality in the American military.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, welcomed the decision, but said such court cases shouldn’t be needed.

“The taxpayers can save a lot of money if Stephen Harper would just follow the will of Parliament and allow war resisters to stay in Canada,” she said.

“There’s a small number of them, they’re winning in court. It’s costly. It’s a lot cleaner if there’s special program that allows the ones who have filed claims to stay in Canada.”

In June 2008, the House of Commons passed a resolution urging the government to allow American military deserters to stay in Canada. The government has ignored the motion.

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