Ottawa turns its back to U.S. soldiers September 22, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Canada, desmond tutu, Iraq war, jack todd, jason kenney, Kimberly Rivera, michelle robidoux, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, war resister
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Photograph by: Luc Rinaldi , The Canadian Press
U.S.war resister Kimberly Rivera was deported on Thursday. She was arrested when she presented herself at the U.S. border point near Gananoque, Ont., and is reportedly being detained at Fort Drum, near Watertown, N.Y.
Rivera’s deportation and arrest brings to an end a lengthy legal battle to allow the mother of four to remain in this country. Despite an international outcry, including an open letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa pleading that she be allowed to remain in Canada, the Iraq War resister was sent back to the U.S. after Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney refused to halt her deportation order. The two youngest of Rivera’s four children were born in Toronto, where she lived with her family. The War Resisters Support Campaign, which has been fighting to convince the Stephen Harper government to allow Iraq War resisters to remain in Canada, estimates that she will have to spend at least a year in prison. Her husband and children crossed into the U.S. separately on Thursday, because Rivera did not want her children to see her being arrested by the military. Rivera, an army private who had already served one tour in Iraq in 2006, came to Canada in 2007 because she was about to be deployed to Iraq again. She was the first female American war resister to flee to Canada. Rivera’s deportation was a bitter and dispiriting defeat for those who have sought to reverse the government’s stance toward those who fled here because of their opposition to the war in Iraq. A potluck supper was also held in Vancouver this week to mark three full years that Rodney Watson, a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, has been living in sanctuary in a Vancouver church. Neither Rivera nor Watson were available for interviews this week. Rivera could not speak to the media, because interviews given by previously deported war resisters Robin Long and Cliff Cornell were used as evidence against them at their court martials. Watson, worn down by his three-year ordeal and depressed by Rivera’s fate, also was reluctant to talk. “Just because we end up on the losing side,” said Sarah Bjorknas, a Vancouver activist who has worked closely with Watson during the past three years, “doesn’t mean we’re on the wrong side.” It doesn’t. But overcoming the stubborn intransigence of Harper’s right-wing government may be impossible, no matter what international pressure is brought go bear. It’s a far cry from the precedent established under Liberal prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, who faced down the pressure exerted by U.S. presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to allow an estimated 100,000 American war resisters (this writer among them) to come to Canada during the Vietnam War. Under Harper, the War Resisters Support Campaign has waged long but ultimately unsuccessful battles for one resister after another, only to see them deported to face court martials in the U.S. The difficulty, according to the campaign’s spokeswoman, Michelle Robidoux, is that Kenney “continues to intervene by telling immigration officers to red-flag U.S. soldiers who are applying for asylum as criminally inadmissible. We think that has tainted the whole process and the government should withdraw that directive.” Watson has worried publicly that the deportation orders will cause the eventual breakup of resisters’ families – which, he claims, is part of the reason he cannot leave the First United Church in Vancouver, because he doesn’t want to be taken away from his wife and son. Among the luminaries urging the Harper government to reconsider, the most prominent is Archbishop Tutu, who outlined the case for allowing conscientious objectors to remain in forceful terms: “The deportation order given to Ms. Rivera is unjust and must be challenged. It’s in times when people are swept up in a frenzy of war that it’s most important to listen to the quiet voices speaking the truth.” Harper and Kenney, however, turned a deaf ear to all objections. The news that she had been deported, in fact, drew an appalling cheer from the Conservative benches in Parliament on Thursday. “Our government does not believe that the administration of the president or the president himself in any way, shape, or form, is going to persecute Ms. Rivera,” said Rick Dykstra, Kenney’s parliamentary secretary. “In fact, she has had every opportunity in this country, despite the fact that not one of the applications from an American war deserter has been successful in Canada. Each and every one of them has been upheld by the Federal Court, in terms of the Immigration and Refugee Board denying them.” Ken Marciniec of the War Resisters Campaign, however, said that Rivera’s arrest proves exactly the opposite: that conscientious objectors are being persecuted. So, while the war in Iraq may have been based on a lie (the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s arsenal) and it may have been illegal, immoral, ruinously expensive and destabilizing to the entire region, U.S. soldiers whose conscience would no longer permit them to serve in that war are still not welcome here. Asked why the Harper government has followed a policy so at variance with the precedent established during the Vietnam War, Bjorknas said “that’s really a good question. I used to think they were just trying to appease (George W.) Bush. “But now that (Barack) Obama is president, I think it must be something else. Maybe it has nothing to do with the U.S. at all and more to do with delusions of grandeur. It seems they’re dismissing collaboration with the (United Nations) and trying to show off by going their own way on issues like Iran. They’re not following the U.S. now, they’re not following any lead but Israel.” An online poll taken by the CBC last week showed Canadians were in favour of allowing Rivera to remain in Canada, by a relatively slender margin of 51.6 to 46 per cent, with the remainder undecided. But it’s not an issue that is going to shift many votes, which is why Canada’s policy is likely to remain unchanged unless there is a change in government. Meanwhile, the image of Canada as a kinder, gentler, more compassionate version of the U.S. is taking an international beating. At no time in our recent history has a Canadian government so aggressively wrapped itself in the trappings of the Canadian Armed Forces. It should be noted, however, that while Rivera and Watson served in Iraq and Watson is a decorated combat veteran, neither Harper, Kenney nor Defence Minister Peter Mackay ever served in the military. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Todd is a U.S.-born war resister who left Fort Lewis, Wash., and made his way to Canada at the height of the Vietnam conflict.