A "sold out" sign might as well have been posted outside the federal courtroom hearing the case of U.S. war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey on Wednesday, February, 8.
For reasons of overcrowding, about two dozen of their supporters and reps from various media were kept by police from taking the elevator to the eighth-floor courtroom where Hinzman's and Hughey's appeal for refugee status was being heard.
Interestingly, presiding Justice Anne L. Mactavish, a former president of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, is no stranger to accusations of keeping the public from witnessing the judicial process.
In the end, Mactavish reserved judgment on Hinzman's and Hughey's appeal application, which sought to overturn a previous decision denying them refugee status.
She also rejected a request from Amnesty International for intervenor status at the hearing because, she said, it was filed too late.
Hinzman's and Hughey's lawyer, Jeffry House, argued that Refugee Board adjudicator Brian Goodman erred when he prevented the question of the legality of the U.S. invasion of Iraq from being entered as evidence.
House argued that evidence linking Hinzman's former unit, the 82nd Airborne, to human rights abuses left Hinzman with the belief he'd be forced to participate in war crimes.
Department of Justice lawyer Marianne Zoric countered, oddly enough, that frontline soldiers can't face war crimes prosecution for carrying out the plans of their military superiors. She used as an example the Nuremberg war crimes trial, at which only Hitler's henchmen were tried for crimes against humanity.
Should the federal courts accept the Department of Justice's argument, Amnesty International says it's prepared to declare the bike courier a prisoner of conscience.
As for the courtroom crowding, the police sergeant in charge of the scene explained that an unspecified case that he said "takes precedence" was occupying the one room in the University Avenue courthouse that could hold such a large group.
A closed-circuit hookup to the proceedings was "not feasible," according to federal court media relations contact Andrew Baumberg, although the presence of a half-dozen fuzz suggested that someone in the decision-making loop anticipated a sizable turnout.
All of which left media types who couldn't get in asking for notes from those who could.
"It's quite an exceptional number, quite unexpected. Usually not that many people want to attend, even with a demonstration," said Baumberg, who added that renos are being planned that will allow new courtrooms to seat up to 80 people and be wired for video feeds to accommodate overflow crowds.