QUEBEC (CP) – Francisco Juarez bristles at being labelled Canada’s first Afghanistan war resister. But the 35-year-old former army reserve member is proud to have turned his back on the military because he doesn’t believe in the Afghan mission.
During a training session earlier this year at Gagetown, N.B., he refused to walk onto an obstacle course and told his commanding officer: I no longer wish to participate. He was dragged before several army captains, told he would feel like a failure for the rest of his life, and threatened with a court martial and possible jail time.
The military relented somewhat. They fined the B.C. native $500 and discharged him without honour. But Juarez doesn’t regret his disobedience for a second. He says he was being groomed to become a second lieutenant and would have been in Kandahar by early next year. Morally I could have sat back and said, ‘You’re paid to do a job. Just do it and shut up.’ But I decided I couldn’t, he said in an interview Saturday.
I began to ask myself: Could I give orders to subordinates that would result in them dying for a mission I did not believe in?
Juarez joined the navy in 2002, lured by the promise of a steady salary. He got a transfer to the reserves last year because it allowed him more time to complete his justice-studies degree at Royal Roads University. His family was upset. They were skeptical about the military, and conversations with his parents grew increasingly tense as the possibility of battle drew closer.
But it wasn’t just the awkward pauses and heated exchanges that became more frequent. So did the moments of doubt. By the end of his first week of training this spring at Gagetown, where he carried a rifle all day long and learned about handling grenades, Juarez knew he wanted out. He spoke to his wife Diane every night on the phone. He chatted for hours at a time with the army chaplain. He did not, however, go around discussing his doubts too often with his army buddies. They probably wouldn’t relate to him.
They all want to go to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the big game, he said. If you’re a concert pianist, you want to go to Carnegie Hall. They were all pretty gung-ho. Juarez wanted to go home, finish college, and either go get a law degree or work in mediation. So one day he marched from his barracks to a brown brick office inside the infantry school and dropped off a note he’d scribbled the day before: For personal and familial reasons, I wish to be returned to unit and released.
In reality he believed that the mission in Afghanistan was ill-conceived, that political dialogue and not military might is the quickest path to stability in that country. But you can’t say to the military, ‘I don’t believe in the mission in Afghanistan and I don’t believe in war-making,’ he said. You can’t do that. The military doesn’t speak that language.
He was brought before the head of the infantry school the next day and told that he would regret the move for the rest of his life, that he would forever be a failure. Juarez kept on with the course for a few more days. Back in Victoria, B.C., his wife spoke to his reserve unit and they asked to see another memo. That’s when he was marched before a series of captains for a barrage of one-on-one interviews in Gagetown. Buck up, is how Juarez describes their message. The only way you’re getting out of this course is by signing the end-of-course report. They were wrong. He ended it that same week around 5 a.m. before setting foot on the obstacle course, when he refused to participate. He was read his rights an hour later, charged the next day, and discharged from the military over the summer.
The NDP invited Juarez to its policy convention this weekend, its members proud to meet a veritable war-resister on the same day their party voted to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan. But Juarez quickly sets the record straight.
He says he’s no war resister – he was never actually deployed to Afghanistan. He also says he has no affiliation to the NDP. What he is, is someone who opposes the Afghan mission and is eager to explain why he avoided it. He also describes in vivid detail the issues that soldiers grapple with before heading on a hazardous mission, and the thought that crossed his own mind that morning beside the obstacle course: I’m in control of my legs. Nobody can make me do this.