Justice

Gulf War reject

JENNIFER HUNTER April 20 1998
Justice

Gulf War reject

JENNIFER HUNTER April 20 1998

Gulf War reject

Justice

JENNIFER HUNTER

Andrew Liebmann’s jaw is roughened by several days of stubble, his impulse to shave overwhelmed by the need to finish sanding the hull of a 13-m sailboat, Turicum. Just starting a shore leave from his job as first mate on a Venezuelan-owned oil tanker, Liebmann has only a week to get the vessel, dry-docked in a Richmond, B.C., marina, ready for a race. Still, that is not the toughest challenge he faces. On May 4, Liebmann, 34, is taking the department of national defence to court in Vancouver for allegedly denying him his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The reason? Liebmann says he was not allowed to participate in the 1991 Gulf War because he is Jewish.

Why was a Jewish officer not called up?

His suit challenges the Canadian Forces’ criteria for selecting members for overseas duty. Its outcome will also determine whether the Forces’ internal regulations can override the equality provisions under the Canadian charter. “The case is significant,” Liebmann says, “because it could tell the Canadian Forces they should be subordinate to Canadian law. Up until now they’ve said, because of the nature of the work they do, they need special laws.”

In late 1990, when Liebmann was a navy lieutenant in the Canadian Forces Reserve, the defence department asked for volunteers for possible duty in the Gulf, where tensions were rising. Liebmann responded to a job posting for an executive assistant to the commander of the Canadian Forces—

“the kind of job a reservist rarely gets to apply for,” he acknowledges, “a career officer’s job.” His commanding officer recommended him and it all seemed to be falling in place in January, 1991, when Liebmann received calls from Defence officials asking if he would be available on short notice. He was told to get a military passport, take a medical exam and get immunized. That convinced him to give his notice at his job in the communications department of the B.C. ministry of trade. But then he waited for the word to go. And waited. “Eventually I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

Liebmann recalls. “Are they not calling because I’ve always been a shit disturber? Is it because the war is going to end soon? Or is it because I’m Jewish?”

At the beginning of February, he learned that he would not be going. A Vancouver Navy Reserve staff officer relayed a message from Maritime Command Headquarters in Halifax. According to Liebmann, “they decided it would be unwise to send a Jew to the Middle East.” And, in his words, “I blew a gasket.” He knew an internal rule, Canadian Forces Administrative Order 20-53, directs that race, religion and ethnic origin be considered in making peacekeeping postings, despite the charter’s protection against discrimination based on those grounds. But Liebmann decided to grieve his exclusion, a fight he continued even

though he accepted a post aboard the destroyer HMCS Restigouche a year after the war, monitoring the Iraqi trade embargo for three months. In 1995, after the grievance procedure provided no satisfaction, he had Vancouver lawyer Gerald Levey, a former judge advocate for the Canadian Forces and a commander in the Navy Reserve, file suit in federal court.

Levey died last year from cancer, but Liebmann’s current lawyer, Samuel ¿ Hyman, says the case is more than just § an issue of one Jew being denied a po-

1 sition in the Gulf War. “It affects half

2 the people of the country who are nei5 ther French nor English in their an| cestry,” Hyman says. “Shouldn’t all £ Canadians, regardless of their ethnicS ity, be equal?” Hyman argues that not

only was Liebmann deprived of his rights and freedoms, but he also lost a significant career opportunity in being denied the job he wanted. The government lawyer, Linda Wall of the department of justice, declined to comment on the suit. ‘We normally don’t talk about cases outside the court,” she said. But the government’s statement of de fence, filed with the court, denies that any application of Administrative Order 20-53 infringed Liebmann1 s rights, and asserts that any limitations it applied were “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” In U.S. military postings during the Gulf War, there were no such limitations, says Herb Rosenbleeth, national executive director of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. He estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 American Jews served in the Gulf. “Secretary of Defence [Dick] Cheney said he was sending units, not individuals, to the war,” says Rosenbleeth. “When your unit went, you went.”

The Canadian government’s defence also states that the executive assistant job Liebmann was seeking “did not come open as expected and accordingly there was no position to which the plaintiff could be posted.” Liebmann, however, contends that another person was chosen for the job, but never took up the post because the war ended. Taking a break from his sanding, Liebmann explains he is not fighting the government for monetary gain, he just wants to change what he sees as a discriminatory practice. “I want to shake up the Forces a bit and make it easier for other people to get in,” he says. “Hey, why shouldn’t the Forces be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights just like everyone else?”

JENNIFER HUNTER in Vancouver