When the United States and Britain made the case in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq, it was on the basis of a lie. We were told that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that these weapons posed an imminent threat to humanity.
For the millions around the world who took part in peaceful protests opposing the war, there was certainly profound skepticism about the deeply flawed evidence presented to support the illegal invasion.
But those who were called to fight this war believed what their leaders had told them. The reason we know this is because U.S. soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera, through her own experience in Iraq, came to the conclusion that the invasion had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the presence of U.S. forces only created immense misery for civilians and soldiers alike.
Those leaders to whom soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera looked for answers failed a supreme moral test. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003, millions have been displaced and nearly 4,500 American soldiers have been killed.
There are many people who, while they may have believed the original justification for the war, came to a different conclusion as the reality of the war became more evident. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself came to the conclusion that the Iraq war was “absolutely an error.”
It is large-hearted and courageous people who are not diminished by saying: “I made a mistake.” Not least among these are Ms. Rivera and the other American war resisters who determined they could not in good conscience continue to be part of the Iraq war.
Ms. Rivera, who is from Texas, joined the U.S. Army when she was 24 and was stationed in Baghdad. She believed the U.S. efforts would make her country safer. Disillusioned by the reality of civilian casualties, she came to Canada in 2007 and applied for refugee status. She felt she could no longer participate in a war where she was contributing to causing harm and death to innocent people.
The Canadian government has notified Ms. Rivera that she is scheduled for deportation to the U.S. on Sept. 20. Her lawyer says she faces a prison sentence of two to five years on her return. Ms. Rivera lives in Toronto with her husband and four children (two of whom were born in Canada); these are people of courage and peace, and they should be granted asylum.
Canada has a long tradition of giving refuge to people of conscience. During the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 young Americans came to Canada. Many of them volunteered and, like Ms. Rivera, later developed moral objections to a war they could not ignore.
Public opinion polls have shown that most Canadians want their government to continue that tradition today. A 2008 Angus Reid poll showed that 64 per cent of Canadians want U.S. conscientious objectors to the Iraq war to remain in Canada. And Parliament has voted twice to allow American conscientious objectors to the Iraq war to stay.
The deportation order given to Ms. Rivera is unjust and must be challenged. It’s in times when people are swept up in a frenzy of war that it’s most important to listen to the quiet voices speaking the truth. Isn’t it time we begin to redress the atrocity of this war by honouring those such as Ms. Rivera who had the courage to stand against it at such cost to themselves?
During the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, we were sustained by the knowledge of the support we had in the international community. Ms. Rivera has my support and the support of all those who desperately want humanity to move along a path of peace.
Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who are held in high regard are not militarily powerful nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try to make the world a better place. I truly believe that Kimberly Rivera is such a person, and that Canada can only benefit from allowing her to stay.