headline letter in today's star: let them stay

In today's Toronto Star:
Let U.S. war resister stay in Canada

For the last few years, I have followed our government’s response to the issue of American war resisters in Canada, so I was not surprised but was still so deeply saddened to learn that Kimberly Rivera, the first female U.S. war resister to seek refuge in Canada, has been ordered to leave our country by Sept. 20. Ironically, that’s the day before International Peace Day.

This order goes against the clearly expressed wishes of many of our elected parliamentarians who have argued that U.S. war resisters should be allowed to stay in our country. This order also goes against a fundamental Canadian belief that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect all who face unjust punishment or persecution if returned to their own country of origin because of their actions or their beliefs. This order also, quite simply, goes against what is right and moral and just.

There are those, including our own Prime Minister and members of his government, who argue that Kimberley voluntarily joined the U.S. army and, so, should not be sheltered in Canada because she chose to walk away from a voluntary commitment. My understanding, however, is that Kimberly went to Iraq intending to fulfil the responsibilities she accepted, but then realized she couldn’t do so in good conscience because she saw that so many young families, like her own, were suffering and dying because of an invasion she no longer believed to be just.

Kimberley had the courage the stand up for what was right, to stand up against an unjust war and to bring her young family to Canada where they have done everything possible to be responsible and productive.

What has become painfully clear in the last few years, is that wars are fought, most often, because of greed and a desire for power, and that it is corporations and governments that profit from conflict. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere while executives and governments in privileged countries like our own have profited.

And many, many soldiers from Canada and elsewhere have paid the “ultimate price” — benefiting the privileged and then trying, and often failing, to deal with the emotional pain of having done so.

There is a reason why there are now more young American and Canadian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have taken their own lives than there are soldiers who have died in combat. There is a reason why our dear family friend — 23 years old — returned from service in Afghanistan, a fractured and struggling young soul. There is an age old question “What if they gave a war and nobody went?”

What Kimberly Rivera and others like her are courageously saying is that when young soldiers go into combat and look long and hard at those they are fighting against, they often recognize the inherent humanity of their “enemies,” understand that they too have children and elderly parents and pets who love and depend on them, and recognize that destroying this other soldier’s or civilian’s life and soul would also destroy their own.

Kimberly Rivera took that long hard look. And she made a very courageous choice. Please contact Stephen Harper and tell her that we want Kimberly and her family to stay in Canada.

Charlotte Sheasby-Coleman, Etobicoke

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