U.S. military deserters again flocking to Canada to avoid war

This time they picked the wrong country

"This is a really hard fight, because every time you get a victory it's only a partial victory," Manning says. In addition to buying time in the courts, deserters and their supporters are hoping Parliament might provide a political solution, which would require either the fall of the conservative government or a successful bid by the liberal parties to pass legislation allowing the Americans to stay. Last summer, Parliament passed a non-binding resolution arguing that the deserters should be given residency, and polls show that 60 percent of Canadians agree.

As they wait in legal limbo, most of the deserters are able to work, pending the resolution of their cases. Key does welding. Johnson picks up carpentry projects, and before she had her third child, Rivera worked nights at a bakery. Many of the deserters are estranged from their families, who disapprove of their decision. Rivera says she hasn't spoken to her mother since she left Texas.

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."

Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq War deserter to seek refuge in Canada, waits for a streetcar in Toronto
Megan Feldman
Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq War deserter to seek refuge in Canada, waits for a streetcar in Toronto
Lee Zaslofsky, a Brooklyn-born Vietnam deserter who runs the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, protests the deportation of American deserters
Megan Feldman
Lee Zaslofsky, a Brooklyn-born Vietnam deserter who runs the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, protests the deportation of American deserters

IT'S NEARING THE end of "Let Them Stay Week." It's cold and overcast on January 23, 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 of the fact 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."

While she cooks eggs in the kitchen, the phone rings. Mario, sitting at the computer, picks it up. His eyes widen as he listens.

"Oh, that's great. Wait until I tell Kimberly," he says.

He listens and nods, then hangs up. He calls to his wife, who appears holding a spatula.

"So unfortunately, Alyssa called about the stay...," he tells her.

Rivera's breath catches. "Uh-huh?"

"We didn't get it," he says, trying unsuccessfully to disguise his grin.

"Are you messing with me?" Rivera says.

Her husband laughs. "We got it."

"For how long?"

"Maybe through June. We don't know."

Rivera exhales, her shoulders relaxing a bit. "All I can say is, thank God."

Mario nods. "That buys us a few months," he says. "But we're not out of the woods yet."

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