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Hard to resist

And even with a new administration in D.C., it's not easier for military deserters


Kim Rivera has Canada's Parliament on her side, but she still could be deported back to the States. - COURTESY DALLAS OBSERVER/IAN WILLMS
  • Courtesy Dallas Observer/Ian Willms
  • Kim Rivera has Canada's Parliament on her side, but she still could be deported back to the States.

Since ditching the Army and the Iraq war two years ago, Kim Rivera has seen some things go her way.

The former Fort Carson soldier and her family found a new home in Canada, along with supporters to help them plead their case. From Toronto, the mother of three watched as American anti-war sentiment helped launch Barack Obama to the presidency.

But even as sentiment and sympathy align, the Texas native faces possible deportation, and imprisonment back in the States. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (pronounced rez-NEV-skee), a member of Canada's Parliament, says efforts to stop his country's government from deporting Rivera and hundreds of other Army deserters seem to be going nowhere.

"The government is standing shoulder to shoulder with the former Bush administration," Wrzesnewskyj says.

Given that the Obama administration has shown no sign of easing up on deserters, Wrzesnewskyj says, his question for Canada's conservative government is simple: "Why would you send this mother to prison and separate her from her three small children for taking a principled stand against an unjust war?"

Canada's minority government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has deported at least four U.S. deserters since July over the objection of a majority in Parliament who have voted twice to let the them stay. Robin Long, another Fort Carson soldier, got wide publicity as the first to be deported, and he is now serving 15 months in a California military jail.

Rivera was preparing to be deported March 26 before a Canadian federal judge granted her an emergency stay of removal, based on the similarly harsh sentence she could get in the U.S. She is now waiting to find out if the courts will review her application for refugee status in Canada.

"It gives me another day to fight," Rivera said in a March 25 press conference.

Though Rivera could not be reached for this story, she told the Dallas Observer that she joined the Army mostly to provide a better living for her family than she could by working at Wal-Mart. She later found she objected to the war effort and missed her loved ones.

Her publicity could hurt her if she's deported. Lee Zaslofsky, national coordinator of the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, says Long's outspokenness against the war could explain his 15-month sentence, nearly twice what another Fort Carson deserter received and longer than those of some soldiers who have admitted to taking part in the murder of Iraqi civilians.

Strictly speaking, desertion is punishable by death during time of war, though the Army has not tried to go that far. The first year of the Iraq war, 2,610 soldiers deserted. That number climbed to 4,698 in the year between October 2007 and September 2008. Most deserters just try to lie low in the States; those who avoid speeding tickets or other law-enforcement contact run little risk of getting scooped up by the Army.

Though many Vietnam-era deserters and draft-dodgers were later forgiven, few expect that to happen for modern-day deserters, particularly while combat continues. And despite Obama's position that soldiers shouldn't have been sent to Iraq to begin with, Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Wright says he's unaware of any plans to change treatment of those soldiers who opted out on their own.

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