America's war deserters could always take comfort in Canada. Now, it's the country that's deserting them.
By Gretel C. Kovach | NEWSWEEK
Kimberly Rivera thought joining the Army would solve her problems. Before she enlisted in 2006, she was struggling on her Wal-Mart paycheck while her husband worked odd jobs and tended their two small kids. She knew she'd be sent to Iraq, but she didn't mind. "I thought I was helping my family and helping my country," she says. But her problems only got worse; she and Mario did nothing but fight on the phone, and the war kept eating at her. In January 2007, while she was home on leave in Mesquite, Texas, she and Mario packed up their car and headed for Toronto rather than let her return to Iraq. The old junker barely made it before breaking down.
Now 26, Rivera has more problems than ever. Her mother hasn't spoken to her since she fled to Canada, although Rivera misses her terribly. And the Canadian government keeps trying to send her home to face desertion charges. She might end up in a military prison—but says she has no regrets about her broken commitment to the service of her country. "At least I can say I never killed anyone, ever," she says. "I think that's a little more honorable."
As Rivera awaits her next court appeal in July, some 50 other American deserters are waging their own asylum battles in Canada. They've inspired rallies and parliamentary resolutions, and triggered clashes between lawmakers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not long ago Iraq provoked similar passions on the U.S. side of the border. But after six years of conflict, thousands of combat deaths and innumerable scandals, most Americans are eager to move on. In some ways the war over the war now rages more fiercely in Canada than in the United States.
Dubbed "Resisterville" by opponents of the war, Toronto has become the deserters' refuge of choice. Many settled in the Parkdale neighborhood, a gritty area west of downtown, where placards pledging support for the dissenters sit in some apartment windows, framed by grubby stonework and peeling paint. Rivera and her husband rented a place there, and last year they had their third child, Katie. As the first mother to publicly campaign for asylum, Rivera offers an alluring face for the movement, appearing at rallies with her Canadian-born child to read a poem she wrote for the Iraqi people. "I was fighting for your liberty," it reads. "I was fighting for peace. But in reality, I was fighting to destroy everything you know and love."
When Rivera deployed to Iraq in October 2006, she sounded a lot more like the red-blooded, flag-waving Texan she'd been raised to be. As far as the enemy was concerned, "bomb them all to hell," she thought. A few months into her tour her attitude began to change. Standing in full battle rattle before a young Iraqi girl who shook and sobbed and peered up at her with wild-eyed terror, Rivera was painfully reminded of her daughter Rebecca. The carnage, the constant menace, the strain of separation from her family—all of it wore her down. She barely slept, ate little and withdrew from her fellow troops. Home on leave, Rivera couldn't fathom returning to the war zone. She and Mario talked things over, then packed up their belongings, loaded Rebecca and her older brother Christian into a beat-up Geo Prizm and took off for Canada. [Continue here.]
canada's new leaf: war resister story in newsweek
A big story in Newsweek on US war resisters in Canada, which has been in the works for a long time, is now online, on newsstands next week.