War resister pins hope on Bill C-440

During two weeks of a leave-of-absence from her work, Kimberly Rivera, 27, a married mother of three, made a life-changing decision. She left her home for good.

“Everybody has the right to feel safe, secure and have things that they need… I made the decision morally to follow my heart to Canada,” Rivera said.

She is Canada’s first female war resister and is currently living in Toronto.

Rivera, born in Mesquite, Texas, enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 14, 2001 at the age of 18 after taking an aptitude test out of “curiosity” and later signed up to be a mechanic.

She was given enlistment date following her high school graduation for the Army Reserves. In March 2006, she was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood and after passing her truck driving course she was assigned to 2-17 Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and 2nd Infantry Division.

In October, her reserve unit was deployed to Iraq. Some of her duties included vehicle and civilian personnel searches as well as inspecting military convoys.

On Dec. 21, 2006, when 24 mortar rounds landed just metres from where she was standing, she started to question whether “the Iraq war was worth ultimately giving her life for.”

During that two-week leave, Rivera and her husband, Mario, decided it was in their best interests not to return to active duty in Iraq. They decided to move to Canada.

Rivera’s initial pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) the process in which Citizenship and Immigration Canada evaluates the risk claimants’ face if they’re deported back to their home country was denied.

In March 2008, she was granted an 11th-hour stay of removal, after her order of deportation was made public.

In August, she was granted a new PRRA after Justice James Russell found the PRRA Officer didn’t properly assess the risk that Rivera would face harsher prosecution based on her opposition to the Iraq War. The final decision on the new ruling can take up to four months to determine.

On Sept. 17, 2009, MP Gerard Kennedy tabled Bill C-440 in the House of Commons. It would grant permanent resident status to U.S. war resisters living in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The bill states that foreign nationals in Canada who, based on a moral, political or religious objection, left the armed forces of another country to avoid participating in an armed conflict not sanctioned by the United Nations, the right to remain in the country.

Kennedy said he initiated the legislation because he believes the current minority government’s view of war resisters doesn’t represent the beliefs of average Canadians.

“It was a matter of a basic sense of fairness, the conservative government is basically imposing its own personal opinion in the place of a real Canadian consensus on this issue,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy also noted that two recent Parliamentary committees called on the government to halt deportations of conscientious objectors and put in place a program to allow them and their families the right to apply for permanent resident status.

“If Parliament initiates a debate on the subject and resolves it… the government of the day has to take note of that. They’ve refused to do that on two occasions now,” Kennedy said. “They’re railroading the people who are affected in ways that are very unfortunate.”

During the 2008 Conservative convention in November, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney referred to Iraq War resisters as “cowards” and “bogus refugee claimants.”

Kennedy pointed out that in the 1960s and ’70s, during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Canada became a safe haven for U.S. military personnel who conscientiously objected to war.

“He (Kenney) said we didn’t accept anyone from the Vietnam War, when in fact, we accepted over 10, 000 people who came out of service during that war,” Kennedy said.

“He (Kenney) has a responsibility to stay objective, because his officials are the ones the war resisters have to appear in front of hoping to get fair treatment.”

Kennedy said the bill is meant to remedy this issue and that he would amend the legislation to compel any minister to take this category of eligibility into account as grounds for staying in the country.

While Rivera awaits a decision on her case, she believes she made the right decision and is grateful for the sanctuary she’s found in Canada.

“I wanted to live in a society that makes its own choices and does what they think is best for their people…that was more heartening for me,” she said.

“Being able to live here day by day, thankful for everyday I have with my kids, being healthy and happy is the blessing that Canada’s given me.”

Filed  by Matt Cohen