U.S lesbian war deserter wins key victory in asylum bid
A U.S. lesbian war deserter wins a key victory in asylum bid. Private Bethany Smith, who now goes by the name Skylar James, took her case to Federal Court in September after being denied asylum by the Immigration and Refugee Board to plead for refugee status in Canada.
At that time, Federal lawyer Brian Harvey urged the court to reject Ms. Smith's claims for refugee status.
Federal lawyer Brian Harvey urged the court to reject Ms. Smith's claim, saying it is not the job of the Canadian courts to interfere with American military justice and its treatment of deserters.
Refugee status, Mr. Harvey said, should not be granted simply because Ms. Smith faces prosecution in her home country. "There's no evidence that she faces tougher sentencing treatment because of her sexual orientation," Mr. Harvey said.
In this latest ruling, Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny's ordered the board to consider Ms. Smith as a credible refugee candidate.
Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny's order for the board to consider a gay U.S. soldier as a credible refugee candidate is believed to be a first, said a spokesman for the U.S. military. "I have never heard of anybody attempting to do that before," said army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver.
Private Bethany Smith, 21, will have another chance to argue her case for staying in Canada, rather than face deportation and a possible court martial in the United States for fleeing the military base at Fort Campbell, Ky., two years ago.
"I did a happy dance when I heard," said the deserter, now an Ottawa call centre worker who has adopted the name Skyler James.
Pte. Smith, who says she was outed by another soldier who spotted her walking hand-in-hand with a woman at a shopping mall, contends in court documents that she was badgered daily, saddled with extra work by her superiors and received more than 100 threatening notes on her dormitory door, including a death threat.
Pte. Smith says she sought a discharge from the army -- under the U.S. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that permits openly gay soldiers to leave -- but that she was told the paperwork would not be done until after she returned from a scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. She said she considers herself among the hundreds of U.S. war resisters who have fled to Canada as "conscientious objectors."
Most have had no success in securing refugee status, but Justice de Montigny concluded that Pte. Smith's sexual orientation puts her in a more sympathetic category. "She could be punished not only on AWOL [absent without leave] and desertion charges, but also for simply being gay," he wrote.
Additional reading: Exclusive interview with feisty lesbian war resister Skyler James
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