3.26.2009

stand with the rivera family: a report

As we assembled last night, a few of us already knew that Kim had been granted an emergency stay. Kim was on her way back from Ottawa with Michelle Robidoux, the Campaign's principal coordinator, and Phil McDowell, another war resister, when Alyssa Manning called with the good news.

Michelle relayed the news to a few people, but we were supposed to keep it quiet until Kim could make the announcement herself. Some people in the audience might have thought it strange that some Campaigners were laughing, joking and downright giddy!

There was a very good turnout, a packed room, and when the meeting started, Kim, Michelle and Phil were still en route.

The meeting opened with Mike Ferner, President of Veterans for Peace. Mike talked about being a young man on duty in Vietnam, how little he knew of what to expect, how quickly he learned the truth behind the lies that sent him to war. He drew parallels between the two invasions, Vietnam and Iraq, and he reminded us that the war resisters in Canada are part of a large, strong GI resistance movement throughout the US.

Mike made the trip from Toledo, Ohio, to stand in solidarity with the Riveras and with all the war resisters in Canada. I could tell by the reactions of some of the resisters in the room that his visit meant a lot to them. I'll tell you, it meant a lot to me.

Next we heard from James Branum, the peace activist lawyer who represents Robin Long, who also came up from the US to help. James reported on the three war resisters he represents who were deported from Canada.

One, Robin Long, is serving 15 months in a military brig. (It would have been 30 months were it not for James Branum's skills and hard work!)

Two, Daniel Sandate, is serving 8 months. Daniel has severe PTSD and is receiving no mental health care. Indeed, he has nothing, not even a proper set of clothes. The Campaign knows about Daniel Sandate, but we never worked with him (that is, he never approached the Campaign), which is why I don't write updates about him.

And three, Cliff Cornell, who is waiting for court martial now.

How an AWOL soldier is treated after they're apprehended, James told us, what charges are brought and the severity of their sentence, very much depends on what base they report to. Ft. Carson, in Colorado, where Kim would be sent, would "go for blood".

But James reminded us that if a resister is court martialled and incarcerated, the struggle is not over. "These guys have been speaking truth to power," James said, from their court martials to the brig and beyond. "The struggle is not over!"

Next up was Peggy Nash, the former NDP MP from Parkdale, the Toronto neighbourhood where Kim and many other resisters live. I confess that I had trouble concentrating on Peggy's talk, because while she was speaking, Kim, Michelle and Phil arrived! A buzz went through the room as people saw Michelle in the doorway - smiling.

Peggy Nash has been a passionate and committed supporter of the war resisters for a long time. She talked about the strong support for Kim and other resisters in the Parkdale community. The neighbourhood is also home to a large number of Tibetan refugees, and they understand the sacrifice the resisters have made, and why they want to live in peace, in Canada.

Peggy talked about why the resisters, people of conscience and courage, should be allowed to stay in Canada, why they are the kind of people Canada needs. Peggy feels strongly that supporting war resisters in Canada is in keeping with Canadian values - the values that Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney are out of step with.

Then Kim, Alyssa Manning and Michelle came up and sat behind the table. Kim took the microphone, and told us she had been granted an emergency stay.

The room erupted, as people jumped to their feet to cheer and applaud. Kim tried to thank everyone, and broke down in tears. Of course I was crying, too. (Hell, I'm crying now!) Kim said she was overwhelmed by the support from the campaign and the community. She said, I am here, my family is here, because of you.

Because of you.

After we finished applauding a few more times, Alyssa Manning spoke. She said that the court ruled that the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment officer who wrote the decision in Kim's case had failed to consider the differential treatment being meted out by the US military to AWOL soldiers who speak out against the war. This is very significant, as it goes to the heart of Manning's cases for the resisters.

Alyssa is a true hero of this movement. And she looked pretty happy last night.

Next up was Michelle Robidoux, the utterly amazing Michelle Robidoux, a woman I feel privileged to work alongside, and somehow that doesn't really express it. I've been an activist a long time, so I know full well how rare people like Michelle are.

It's one thing to possess such a sharp intellect for organizing and strategy - it's another to do the heavy lifting, whatever it takes, to get the job done - and it's still another to be a true movement person, without ego, without desire for power and credit, always working as part of a democratic collective, and motivating others by example. But let me tell you, to find all three qualities so abundantly in one person is as rare as... as... a compassionate Conservative Immigration Minister?

Michelle gave a bit of history of the campaign, celebrated the victory, and reminded us that many other resisters - including Kim, in the long run - still live under the shadow of the threat of deportation. Our work must continue.

Michelle said that she has never been part of a campaign of such sustained effort - so much hard work and so much compassion - for such a long period of time. She said that energy was a product of two things on the part of the Canadian people.

One, an abhorrence of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Polls now show "statistical unanimity" on Canadians opposition to the war in Iraq: 80%. (She noted with a smile and a proud fist pump that the figure is even higher in Quebec!)

And two, Canada's history of taking in Vietnam War resisters. And that, she reminded us, also didn't happen without a fight. And contrary to what the Harper Conservatives would have you believe, Canada took in both Vietnam draft resisters and people who had volunteered. That's why you can no longer find that information on the CIC website. They would rather re-write history than bow to the truth.

Michelle reminded us that if Harper had been in power in 2003, Canada would have joined the US invasion of Iraq. And now, frustrated at the Canadian people for embracing a different path, they vicariously punish the war resisters, using them as stand-ins for a vision of Canada they reject, a Canada of peacekeepers, a "refuge from militarism".

As Michelle started talking about our motion coming back to Parliament, and the press conference they held that day, a campaigner brought baby Katie Marie over to Kim, and I lost track of what was being said!

Next up, Olivia Chow, Parliamentary patron saint of the war resisters. She had a present for the baby, a little polar bear wearing a "Canada" sweatshirt. Yes, that's Olivia.

Olivia told us: the people have spoken, Parliament has spoken, only Stephen Harper stands in the way. But democracy will prevail.

To our surprise, we learned that tomorrow - that is, today - the motion will be debated in Parliament. As part of the debate, Olivia will read Robin Long's statement on the 6th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, which she heard read in San Diego, and which she promised Robin she would read in the House of Commons.

The vote will come as early as Friday, or possibly Tuesday. To clarify, this will be a re-affirmation of the motion that passed in the House of Commons last June:
...that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

Members from all three opposition parties are expected to vote in favour of this. It's a symbolic action, but an important one, as it will demonstrate yet again the wide support the war resisters have across Canada, and just how out of step with Canadian values the Conservatives really are.

Then, a private member's bill will begin to work its way through Parliament. The bill is being spearheaded by Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy. When Kennedy won his last election, he inherited (from Peggy Nash) the Toronto riding with the most war resisters residents in Canada, including Kim Rivera. Kennedy has been strongly in Kim's corner, too. It's clear that he genuinely cares about the war resisters. He believes they should be allowed to stay, and he's working to ensure that they can.

Olivia said that Stephen Harper is afraid of people who speak out for peace. Afraid of George Galloway, afraid of the war resisters, afraid of democracy. She said she's given Jason Kenney a new title: Minister of Censorship and Deportation.

Olivia also reported on the visit to Robin Long, and the important details we learned from that meeting: how the CBSA's actions increased the severity of Robin's sentence.

Olivia told us that "my partner, Jack Layton," is on his way here, too, so there was a bit of a buzz around that.

The meeting closed with a brief performance by Michelle Rumball, a blues singer with a Janis Joplin-esque voice and a spirit of resistance. She used to be part of the band Grievous Angels, and now writes and sings on her own.

Carolyn Egan, president of the Toronto Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, who was chairing the meeting, announced that she was opening the bar and we should all enjoy a celebratory pint or two. Jack Layton did indeed show, and there were hugs and handshakes and photos. And a few more tears of joy.

13 comments:

MSEH said...

Thanks for the update! We live and hope...

David Heap said...

Cried when I heard the news last night, crying again as I read your post; drying off now and moving on to redouble efforts working to LET THEM ALL STAY.

Alyssa, Michelle, Olivia: all three of them are awesome beyond words. I am particularly touched by Olivia reading Robin Long's words into the Parliamentary record.

Cornelia said...

Olivia Chow, Jack Layton and Gerald Kennedy are doing a great job!!!

Cornelia said...

And so many others, too, of course...

Cornelia said...

Alyssa is a true hero of this movement. And she looked pretty happy last night.

Yep, she sure is an excellent lawyer!

Cornelia said...

She said she's given Jason Kenney a new title: Minister of Censorship and Deportation.

Cool and gets to the point. He's really Minister of Deportation.

Cornelia said...

I am particularly touched by Olivia reading Robin Long's words into the Parliamentary record.

Yeah, that sure will make an impact and hammer home how wrong and inadequate estimations of Anne Mc Tavish etc. as to how allegedly harmless treatment stateside might be actually were!

Let's continue the good work and onward!!!

robertages said...

Great news and great work guys. I know everyone in the west coast wing of the campaign is very proud and grateful to be connected with such great people. The struggle continues!

Stephanie said...

Thank you so much for this report Laura!

L-girl said...

Alyssa, Michelle, Olivia: all three of them are awesome beyond words. I am particularly touched by Olivia reading Robin Long's words into the Parliamentary record.

I agree, both points. :)

L-girl said...

Thanks Bob and Stephanie!

Thanks Cornelia, as always, for your strong support.

Soldier Say No! said...

Great news indeed! And great, comprehensive, heartfelt post, Laura! I will share it with many friends in the U.S.

Cornelia said...

Thanks Cornelia, as always, for your strong support.

You are welcome, Laura. I really appreciate it. Hope you are all fine and happy...