July 8, 2009

Kim (and Katie) fight against the war and deportation from Canada

I travelled to Canada this morning to attend Kim Rivera's vigil and hearing. The Canadian Border Guard asked me where I was going. I told him I was off to Toronto to attend a hearing for a War Resister at the Federal Court House. He seemed confused about my answer and asked me to explain. I told him an American soldier who didn't support the war in Iraq and instead of going back, she chose to desert (I rarely use the word deserter, but for the sake of clarity I did) and fled to Canada. There was a hearing today that would impact her and her family's ability to stay. He said with the friendliest smile, "We don't like to call them that." Then he asked about her being a woman. He seemed unfamiliar with this case, but interested. He said he would check the newspapers tomorrow.

Many concerned supporters showed up for the vigil. Lots of familiar faces. Jeremy was there with his son. They bicycled off to camp after the vigil. What a loving family.

Inside the courtroom, there were two rows of seats, only enough for 21 observers - 22 if you count Kim's nursing baby, Katie. The clerk ejected the others as they entered the courtroom. I was hoping they would bring in extra chairs like they did at Jeremy's hearing. As the hearing went on, Katie starting getting playful and Kim stepped outside when her sounds began to compete with the proceedings. Her seat was filled immediately.

I watched Kim and Katie interact while they were sitting in front of me. It was so loving and tender. I was overwhelmed at the thought of them being separated if they were deported. How can the US lock her up for 4 or 5 years, imprison her husband and put her children in foster homes.

I know I need to think positive, but memories of families being brutally separated with boots and rifle butts in Vietnam as their homes were burned down by this same dispassionate military overwhelmed me when I tried to compose the concept "compassionate" in my mind.

Kim knows about our unmerciful military from her experience in Iraq. She would send troops through the gate in the middle of the night, knowing they were breaking into the homes of Iraqi families - tormenting, beating, terrorizing and kidnapping the innocent people. That's why she's here. She didn't want to do this to other families any more. She spoke out because she didn't want any of us to do it.

The hearing was incredible. How could an appeal of a bureaucratically botched decision be so riveting. It's not like me to be able to sit and focus on these legal details. But Kim's brilliant attorney, Alyssa Manning, kept us all alert. When the Ministry's attorney would address the judge, "m'lord", and proceed to attempt to chop away at Alyssa Manning's case, she would take each of his arguments, flip through the huge stacks of papers in front of her and one by one show how each point misrepresented the situation, was irrelevant, or just wrong information.
(I thought about how sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to find my car keys.)

The key issue was the concept of "differential prosecution". The hearing officer never considered it. AWOL soldiers who speak out against the war are prosecuted differently than those who remain silent. It is not uncommon for the soldier who doesn't speak out to get an administrative discharge. The soldier who speaks out gets a court-martial and jail time.

Now we wait. The judge goes through his notes and all the arguments and makes a decision.

L-girl promises us a detailed account of the hearing in the next couple of days.

Canadian Press story on Kim Rivera.

American war resister Kimberly Rivera says she's nervous but hasn't given up hope she'll be allowed to remain in Canada.

The 27-year-old mother of three, who now lives in Toronto, made what might have been her final appearance Wednesday morning in Federal Court.

Rivera, from Texas, deserted the U.S. army in 2007 because of her opposition to the war in Iraq.

She had been facing deportation and a likely court martial until a judge granted her an 11th-hour reprieve in March.

Now, the court is probing whether a Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration report from December 2007 adequately measured the potential risks Rivera could face if she were returned to the U.S.

"I'm more optimistic (than pessimistic)," said Rivera, flanked by dozens of anti-war supporters, as she cradled her seven-month-old daughter Katie in her arms outside the downtown Toronto courthouse.

Lawyers for Rivera and the ministry delivered their final arguments on the merits of the report Wednesday morning in front of Judge James Russell.

Rivera's lawyer Alyssa Manning argued her client would more likely face a court martial and jail time - instead of a simple administrative discharge - because of her political opposition to the war. The report, Manning said, failed to account for this risk of "differential prosecution."

But that wasn't the only flaw, Manning said. The report also contained sections that were copied "word for word" from assessments carried out on two other war deserters four months earlier, she said.

"It's almost that the conclusion was reached before the evidence was even looked at," Manning said outside court.

In her arguments, Manning cited the cases of a number of U.S. war resisters, including Robin Long, the first resister to be successfully deported from Canada.

Long was given a dishonourable discharge in 2008 and sentenced to 15 months in a military prison after pleading guilty to charges of desertion.

Manning told court that 94 per cent of all army deserters are given administrative discharges, but not those who air their beliefs in public.

"People who speak out about their political opinions get prosecuted," she said afterward. "People who don't, don't."

Ministry lawyer Stephen Gold told court that the conclusions in Rivera's risk assessment were "perfectly reasonable." The report fully considered whether Rivera would be at greater risk if she were returned to the U.S., Gold said.

Rivera enlisted in March 2006 and was deployed to Iraq, where one of her main duties was to search suspicious vehicles at checkpoints.

She became disillusioned with the mission, however, and in February 2007, while on a two-week leave in the U.S., she crossed the border into Canada.

Manning said that unless the court orders a new risk assessment, Rivera will probably be out of options.

"There are very limited avenues," she said. "I would say that today is essentially the last chance."

Rivera said even if she is deported and court-martialled, her opposition to the war will continue.

"It doesn't matter whether I get to stay in Canada or I have to leave Canada," she said. "I'll be the same as I am now."

It's not known when the court will deliver its final decision.

-thanks to L-girl at We Move To Canada

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