Feature

Should Canada keep U.S. deserters?

Last week, Canada for the first time deported a female Iraq War resister.

So much for the image of Canada “as a kinder, gentler, more compassionate version of the U.S.,” said Jack Todd in the Montreal Gazette. Last week, Canada for the first time deported a female Iraq War resister. Kimberly Rivera was forced to cross the border into New York, where she was promptly arrested. Rivera enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006 but became disillusioned when she saw the horrifying death toll among civilians in Iraq. She applied for asylum here in 2007, hoping to find a home in Canada just as I and tens of thousands of other American war resisters did during the Vietnam War years. Two of her four children were born here. But Canada has changed. The current government doesn’t merely reject these brave resisters—it kicks them out with glee. The news that Rivera had been deported, in fact, “drew an appalling cheer from the Conservative benches in Parliament.” 

The Canadian government’s harsh stance is inexplicable, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The Iraq War has been an immense human tragedy, all the more evil because it was based on “a lie.” Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the U.S.-led invasion was “absolutely an error.” How, then, can he insist that a young private who dared to speak out against it, who said that she could not in good conscience be part of it, should be punished? “Isn’t it time we begin to redress the atrocity of this war by honoring those such as Rivera who had the courage to stand against it at such cost to themselves?”

But Rivera is not a conscientious objector, said Matt Gurney in the Toronto National Post. Unlike the conscripts Canada welcomed during the Vietnam years—the unfortunate teenagers who lacked the political connections to avoid the draft—Rivera chose to enlist in the Army in 2006, while the war in Iraq was in full swing. She did not “volunteer in a patriotic daze” right after 9/11, nor was she misled into believing that she would be saving the world—it was already obvious by then that there were no WMDs in Iraq. Instead, she volunteered because she wanted the $8,000 signing bonus. After a stint in Iraq of just three months, she found she “didn’t like what she’d gotten herself into.” That’s a shame, but it’s not Canada’s place to rescue her from “the legal consequences of her choice.”

Rivera is no “war resister”—she’s just a deserter, said the Calgary Herald in an editorial. Canada owes her no protection. It’s not as if she “faces the prospect of torture” back home, after all. Like the two other American deserters expelled from Canada in the past few years, Rivera will serve just a short sentence, perhaps a few years, in a U.S. military prison. It’s a fair punishment. “Canada should not be a dumping ground for soldiers who refuse to do their duty.”

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