Iraq war resister refused safe haven in Canada sentenced to jail

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

What comes next after an Iraq war resister who was refused a safe haven in Canada is sentenced in a U.S. military court? The blame game, that’s what.

Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 10 months of confinement and received a bad conduct discharge from the military for abandoning her position as a front gate guard at a U.S. military base in Baghdad six years ago.

She had remained in Canada until late last year when, running out of options, she left Canada and was arrested at the U.S. border.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports Rivera told the military judge that she intended to stay out of the military for "long as I possibly could," and considered herself a conscientious objector to the Iraq war.

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If you will remember, the Iraq war was a tender spot in U.S.-Canada relations for some time after we refused to participate in the 2003 invasion. It became a source of some pride for many in the country, who believed we were standing up against an unjust war.

And so, when Americans who did not want to participate in the war starting coming to Canada, it was seen as a bit of a revival of the Vietnam War, draft-dodging era. Well, not by the Conservative government, who refused to keep Rivera and ordered her deportation.

The War Resisters Support Campaign said that she was ordered to return to the U.S. because the Federal Court found the idea that she would be arrested and detained “speculative.” And, of course, that is what happened.

"The Conservative government knew that Kim would be jailed and separated from her children when they forced her back to the U.S., yet they cheered her deportation," spokesperson Michelle Robidoux said in a statement. "They are out of step with the great majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who support allowing U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada."

Rivera's life in Canada was a constant battle to remain in the country. After arriving in 2007 with her husband and two children (they had two more children while living in Canada), she sought to become a permanent resident of Canada but was refused by immigration officials.

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Her requests to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds were also rejected and she faced deportation orders in 2009 and again in 2012. Her bid to stay in Canada garnered a wide swath of support, from people who feared she faced retribution if she was returned to Canada.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu even wrote an editorial in the Globe and Mail, urging Canada to protect Rivera.

He wrote in September of 2012, shortly before Rivera returned to the U.S.:

Canada has a long tradition of giving refuge to people of conscience. During the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 young Americans came to Canada. Many of them volunteered and, like Ms. Rivera, later developed moral objections to a war they could not ignore.

But the Iraq war is behind us now, and while a handful of resisters remain in Canada, there are more immediate and dangerous struggles facing both North American nations. Do we still have that tradition of giving refuge to people of conscience?

Considering we turned Rivera over just months ago, the answer isn’t a clear yes.

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