Former Private Kimberly Rivera is a long way from home.
Since moving to Toronto with her family a year and a half ago, the 26-year-old Iraq War veteran and mother of two has confronted struggles both personal and political: estrangement from her family back in Texas, long periods of unemployment and, above all, the imminent threat of deportation.
Kimberly would not have it any other way. To Canada’s first female defector from the United States military, her adopted home is a “peaceful environment, somewhere I can raise my family, somewhere I can be me”.
The American military calls people like Kimberly “deserters”. To their supporters in Canada and the US, they are “war resisters.”
In January 2004, Jeremy Hinzman, a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army, made his way to Canada seeking political refugee status with his wife and son. Since Hinzman’s arrival, a growing number of American soldiers and their families have made the decision to seek sanctuary in Canada.
“We now have approximately fifty war resisters, many with families, from Ottawa all the way to Vancouver Island”, says Lee Zaslofsky, National Coordinator of Canada’s War Resisters Support Campaign. “We estimate, from what lawyers tell us, that there may be several hundred others who are living underground in Canada.”
Based in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and the adopted home of an estimated twenty US Military defectors, The War Resisters Support Campaign offers material and legal resources to these individuals and their families in their quest for asylum.
During the Vietnam War, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 US draft dodgers and deserters fled to Canada. American defectors were granted permanent resident status under the supportive immigration policy of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who publicly condemned the war and declared that Canada should be “a refuge from militarism.” According to an Angus Reid national poll conducted in June, 64 percent of Canadians said today’s American defectors should be allowed to remain in Canada as permanent residents.
In spite of such popular support, the soldiers have faced a series of judicial setbacks in their adopted country, where a hawkish Conservative government has held office since 2006. First Hinzman and another American military defector, Brandon Hughey, were denied political refugee status by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent administrative tribunal. After appeals, the Supreme Court of Canada last November refused to hear the former soldiers’ case, which centered on the illegality of the Iraq war under international law.