Canada's top court decided not to hear the case of Iraq war deserter Jeremy Hinzman last November.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington Friday to demand protection for U.S. soldiers who seek refuge north of the border to avoid deployment to Iraq.

A group of about 50 American veterans of the Iraq war and their supporters said they want the Canadian government to provide sanctuary to men and women trying to escape military commitments in the U.S.

"We believe that these war resisters should be allowed a safe haven from persecution on the basis of resisting an illegal and immoral war and occupation," said Max Diorio, an organizer for California-based Courage to Resist.

In a letter addressed to Ambassador Michael Wilson, the protesters demanded the government bar the deportation of U.S. soldiers who have fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq.

Geoff Maillard, president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said the refugee board that hears the soldiers' applications has wrongly refused to consider the question of whether the Iraq war is legal — a question central to the soldiers' request for sanctuary.

"These war resisters are leaving the U.S. not because they're afraid to fight in a war but because their conscience will not allow them to fight in a war that clearly violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Accord," Maillard said.

Rallies co-ordinated by Courage to Resist and Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign were planned in eight American cities.

U.S. campaigners gathered letters on behalf of war resisters, petitioning Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Steven Harper, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley and Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion, to allow war resisters to obtain permanent resident status in Canada.

In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear the cases of two U.S. deserters, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, who fled to Canada from the U.S. to avoid deployment to Iraq in 2004.

They face possible deportation to the U.S., where they would likely face imprisonment.

Demonstrations expected Saturday in Canada

In December 2007, Parliament's Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration urged the government not remove any war objectors without a criminal record, or their immediate families, if the military service they refuse is related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations.

There were as many as 20 active refugee claims by American military deserters in Canada as of May 2006.

An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 U.S. draft dodgers and deserters fled to Canada during the Vietnam War.

Similar demonstrations are expected to take place across Canada on Saturday.

With files from the Canadian Press