This week the War Resisters Support Campaign held a fundraiser at (what a surprise) the Steelworker’s Hall here in Toronto. They were raising money on behalf of Kimberley Rivera, an American soldier who served in Iraq in 2006 and made a conscious decision not to go back in 2007. Rivera contacted the WRSC and they helped Rivera and her husband (and two kids) flee across the border to Canada to claim refugee status.
Rivera was one of about 50 war resisters who (officially, some are hiding) came to Canada, most moved to Toronto or Vancouver- the two cities where the WRSC has the bulk of their members. It’s no coincidence that both cites are hubs for Canada’s militant left- the WRSC is led by the same community who brought us Occupy, Idle No More, and the violence at the 2010 Olympics and the G20. And, as happens often in militant left fiascos, the people they claimed to support ended-up in a whole lot of pain.
Intentional or not, the WRSC worked like the ultimate honeypot. In some ways, their service is a lot like the anti-abortion hotlines setup by religious organizations. When young people who were feeling scared, alone (and often in a state of internal conflict) contacted the WRSC they were welcomed by friendly people who genuinely wanted to help. On arrival in Canada war resisters and their families were greeted with help acquiring housing, money and legal support for their quixotic battle to stay in the country.
Like the Iraq war, most Canadians didn’t support what happened in Vietnam. So, when tens of thousands of American soldiers crossed the border asking for refuge, Canada obliged by allowing them to stay here. But, there was a key difference between the Iraq & Vietnam the Americans had the draft back then- today the American military comprises entirely of volunteers.
People supporting the war resisters provided a lot of evidence to counter this fact- much of it was true. For example, the majority of the soldiers who came to Canada during the Vietnam war were people who voluntarily signed-up to the military. They also claimed that since (in their opinion) the Iraq war is illegal that soldiers had moral and legal imperatives to walk away.
The war resisters were supported by the full regalia of politicians, organizations and high-profile individuals in Canada’s radical-left. They were paraded to community meetings, interviewed by reporters and touted as heroes to the Canadian public. In June 2008 and Angus Reid poll showed that 64% of Canadians believed war resisters should be given the opportunity to stay in Canada as permanent residents.
Despite all of the discussion, and the many reasons the WRSC gave that the war resisters should stay, there’s one very important point that didn’t get much attention. Most Canadians perceived the punishment given to deserting soldiers was as tough as it was back in the Vietnam war when soldiers were often sent back to war and/or long terms of incarceration. The reality is much different today.
The truth is that, outside of aggravated circumstances, the majority of US deserters who obtain legal council have had to serve little to no time behind bars. Often they’ll have to spend a week or two after they turn themselves in, but the harshest part of their sentence is likely that they’re given a dishonourable discharge.
Unfortunately for those who fled, moving to Canada and joining the anti-war movement is one of the most aggravating factors considered by a military court martial. War resisters who’ve been sent home have been sentenced to between 6 months to over a year in military prisons. The reality is that coming to Canada was their worst mistake.
This is the point in the story where we ask who benefited from this situation and who lost. It worked out very well for the radicals- the situation with the war resisters was an agitator’s wet dream. It also worked out pretty well for the politicians- both the NDP and the Liberals scored a lot of political points over the Conservatives. Unfortunately, for the soldiers, it ended badly. Kimberly Rivera will be sentenced on April 29th- speculation is that she faces a 2-5 year sentence.
Everything I’ve heard about Rivera (from people who knew her) is that she’s a good person who got stuck in a very bad situation. She loves and takes care of her (now four) children, and now is at risk of being taken away from them. Life would had been a whole lot easier if, rather than helping her flee to Canada, the WRSC would have simply helped her obtain a lawyer.
But, of course, then she’d have had little political value to the radicals and politicians…