For Ryan Johnson, losing his family has been the hardest part of coming to Canada. His mother is so ashamed of her son that she tells friends he's still serving in the Army and deployed overseas.

"My grandfather died last year," Johnson says. "He was one of the people who pretty much raised me, and he stopped talking to me because of the decision I made. A lot of my family has disowned me."

Landry, over a glass of wine at a Toronto restaurant, says he was never especially close to his mother, but there are a lot of things he misses about home, and he hopes to return.

Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.
Ian Willms
Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.

"I still have aspirations for running for political office," he says. "That was part of the goal of joining the military, getting a foot in the door to the government setting. But yeah, it didn't work." A few minutes later, he spots an American $20 bill while a group of people pay for dinner and drinks. Landry's eyes light up. "I love Andrew Jackson," he says. "Old Hickory, he's one of my favorite presidents." Then he grows serious. "I'm homesick lately. I didn't get to canvass during the election. I didn't get to go to the Democratic National Convention. It's kind of depressing."


It's nearing the end of "Let Them Stay Week," and Rivera, Mario, and their three children are being honored with a dinner at the pacifist Quaker House near the University of Toronto. While Mario holds their 2-month-old, Katie, in the living room of the cozy Victorian, Rivera sits around a wooden table with a dozen other people eating stew, salad, and scalloped potatoes.

Nearby sits Naba Hamid, an Iraqi who used to teach at Baghdad University and is now seeking refugee status in Canada. An elegant woman wearing a pink sweater and large pearl earrings, Hamid hears Rivera is from Texas and explains that she's involved in a number of women's rights organizations and was supposed to attend a conference in the southwestern state. "I couldn't go," she says. "My visa expired, and my refugee status is pending."

Rivera tells her, "I wanted to get involved in a refugee group here. But I didn't know if I'd be accepted, you know, as someone who says, 'I have trauma because I afflicted you.' I just went and saw a counselor. As long as you keep talking about it, it's not so bad." She's quiet for a moment and seems to be lost in faraway thoughts. Earlier she'd mentioned that she still sees little girls who remind her of that 2-year-old Iraqi at the gate, but right now she recalls other incidents that continue to cloud her thoughts. "The soldiers went out on raids every night; the people didn't have electricity; the markets were getting blown up every day."

Hamid nods, her eyes brimming. "There was a raid in my neighborhood after I left," she says. "They came to my house. My neighbor said nothing was disturbed, but I don't know." She asks where Rivera was stationed while in Iraq.

"Southeast Baghdad."

"When did you arrive there?"

"I was there October 2006 through January 2007."

"I left that month, too," Hamid says. "It was horrible. It was hell. Bombings, no electricity, no water, no telephones, no food, no nothing for days. We'd go everywhere in taxis, but it was very dangerous. You didn't know if the driver was a criminal or a terrorist. And I was a target for many reasons. I'm a professor, an activist, a woman."

The two women look at each other for a moment in silence. "That's crazy," Rivera finally says. "We could have crossed paths there, but we met right here."

The next day, January 23, is cold and overcast, only four days before the Riveras are scheduled to be deported. Manning, their lawyer, hasn't yet heard from the federal court about a stay of deportation, and all they can do at this point is pray. On this chilly morning, Rivera has awoken with a head cold. Christian and Rebecca are chasing each other around the living room of the family's two-bedroom apartment on the upper floor of a cramped high-rise.

"Stop that," Rivera tells them. "Mommy's sick." She shakes her head. "Who knows what's going to happen to me in the next few days, and I'll be sick on top of it. Great."

She rises from the couch to dress and run errands. She'll strap the baby to her chest and go to the pharmacy to pick up Mario's medication for high blood pressure. She tries to take good care of her husband. She's well aware that they are in this situation because of her, and while she doesn't regret joining the Army — "I needed the experience to open my eyes," she says — she feels accountable. Sometimes when she looks at her husband, she is amazed. "I can't believe I found someone to love me through all of this," she says. "It's amazing. I mean, we've known each other since we were 17, and he stuck with me through everything. Not even my parents could do that."

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9 comments
Ryan
Ryan

Why isn't anyone commenting on the "morality" of the government who sent these young people to war. All I hear is crap about a business contract that was signed and how it is "cowardly" for these people to want to opt out of a war they were lied to about in the first place. Killing and maiming innocent people isn't for everyone. I feel for the American soldiers who were lied to, and are being sent to fight a special interest war in which the majority will see no benefits from, and especially feel for the majority of everyday Iraqi people who have not had a choice of a life for the last 20-30 years because of the West meddling in their affairs.

Ron
Ron

She enlisted for all the wrong reasons. I've heard this story before and even from a Marine Corps reservist who actually believed she would never be sent into a conflict. She was confident that her unit had rear area support duties and she could always get out of the corps if she was assigned to go into danger. Some people are quite adept at convincing themselves that military service is something other than the reality. They deny the realty and decide to believe some convenient fairytale. Some become deserters running to foreign nations to avoid the reality which rains upon them washing away all pretense. So to the youth of America I say, consider carefully what you do. Military service is not an easy ride to benefits and the educational benefits are paltry compared to the risks. Need an education, there are plenty of other ways to help yourself. Even the National Guard is no place to go just to get benefits. The cold war is over -- now we have endless "hot" conflicts around the globe. Plenty of opportunity to serve our country which is the reason one should serve in the military. Don't just sign up for the benefits, you could end up using your burial benefit earlier than you like. I served in the U.S. Air Force for a decade. I recommend service, but consider it carefully. When you do sign that contract -- live by your decision and fulfill your promise.

Devildog
Devildog

Coward, I am ashamed of this coward, make excuses because of the lack of commitment, you wanted all the good but none of the bad, come back to America and face the charges you coward

john
john

Anyone find it odd that Canada wont allow deserters to stay but fight to keep killers facing the death penalty?

Mike Wichrowski
Mike Wichrowski

I don't believe her for a minute, she joined for a free ride, hoping her 2)kids would keep her from serving in Iraq. She gambled and lost, now needs to face the music. I served in everything from NAM to the 1st. Gulf War (and 5 kids along the way). I may not have agreed or liked the situation but I was no COWARD! She could have gotten out, if she hated it so much, but WITH NO BENEFITS!

Jerry K
Jerry K

First and foremost. You signed the contract, you said you would do the duty and you lied. These people in the article ran when they said they wouldn't. They are truly cowards in every sense of the word. Even if you are a woman and you are serving you must expect that you will have to sacrifice, the main subject of the article expects everyone to sacrifice for her and then claims to be a victim when she sees how hard life can be for her to sacrifice. Girl grow up or shut up.

I served in the military 19 years ago, I knew what I signed up for and I now know that if my life was needed I signed a contract that said I would give it voluntarily.

In talking with my current 2 family members that are in the Army and USAF they both have stated they are proud to be serving and when they have been in theater they are doing the right things there.

These deserters deserve the full UCMJ thrown at them and be lined up in front of a firing squad. We are in a time of war, the punishment is clear.

Since the article threw in a political spin. I will do mine, I am a republican; ironically I grew up as a democrat and then saw the light that we make our own way. These people are the weak minded democrats that our wonderful new administration wants to serve. If our new administration doesn�t deal with these deserters per the UCMJ it will show the world just how weak we are.

We as Americans must find our back bone and be the leaders we need to be.

Joe Harrison
Joe Harrison

I agree with Andrew Noe that there's something wrong with Kim Rivera, which give me some sympathy for her. Basically i think she should've toughed out the time she signed up to serve, but i would also like to know whether or not she was given alternatives to running away. She clearly has some issues, and from personal experience, i can tell you that homesickness can be debilitating, and can sneak up on a person. With that in mind, a well run military would provide for one to get help and if necessary, a transfer to a position that they're more capable of, or need be, discharge. If you jump at your own shadow, you're a danger to yourself and your unit, and that trumps unit cohesion. Still, while a lack of such options could be considered extenuating circumstances, what she did was still wrong.

The ones i do support are those that got a stop loss order. They did their duty, fulfilled their obligations, and went back to their lives, only to be pulled back in, or not allowed to leave. What happened to a volunteer military? Aside from a slap on the wrist, i don't think those deserters deserve any punishment, they did everything they were supposed to, and the military simply decided to conscript them, which goes against the claims of an all volunteer military. This is especially galling when at the same time we're kicking gays out because you can't be gay and serve. Quite frankly, as long as you behave yourself and conduct yourself professionally, i don't see why you can't serve, particularly at a time when we need everyone we can get.

Andrew Noe
Andrew Noe

Upon reading the first part of the article, I really thought that I would have sympathy for the subjects involved. But I don't. The Vietnam-era deserters who didn't have the balls or were too rich or too smart to fight? Good riddance. They were never Americans to begin with. I bet they have as many problems and guilt as the men and women who stood up and served our country as honorably as most of our military personnal did. Better to live life bravely than be a coward, and make no mistake, they were and always will be cowards. There is no such thing as a brave coward. I know that's a harsh judgement, but one has to live by one's choices.As far as the modern day deserters are concerned: If one joins the Marines, you should know better. I noticed no Navy personnel were involved. The Air Force guy sounds like the usual fuck-up who got busted. He should be a politician because it sounds like he is a liar and a weasel.What is very disturbing about the article is the fact that Kim Rivera was even allowed in the Army. I can't believe that they are so desperate to think she would be a good soldier. This is what happens when the standards are so low that they would allow this to happen. "Boo-hoo, I joined the Army voluntarily to get free stuff and they sent me to a place where bad things happened."As far as I'm concerned, the Canadians can keep them all.

Scott Davis
Scott Davis

Typical. I wan't somebody to provide for me. I have to do what to get my benefits? I know I signed up for this deal, but I'm not doing that.

And know this lazy so and so is a victim.

That's why is country is going down the toilet.

Total BS.

 
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