NATIONAL

A RESISTER WITHOUT AWAR

Is he a conscientious objector if he was never bound for combat?

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI November 27 2006
NATIONAL

A RESISTER WITHOUT AWAR

Is he a conscientious objector if he was never bound for combat?

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI November 27 2006

A RESISTER WITHOUT AWAR

Is he a conscientious objector if he was never bound for combat?

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI

NATIONAL

Francisco Juarez is the newest voice of Canada’s antiwar movement, and understandably so. A former navy seaman turned army reservist, the 35-year-old famously quit the military because he couldn’t stomach the thought of deploying to Afghanistan. Free to speak his mind, Juarez now spends much of his time travelling the country, telling crowds large and small why the rest of Canada’s troops don’t belong in Kandahar, either. Journalists have dubbed him the “first Afghan war resister”—a title he happily accepts. “My ethics guide me,” Juarez says, “and I followed them.”

Peace activists couldn’t buy a better spokesman, a real-life soldier who saw the light at the end of the propaganda tunnel. “If we send Canadian Forces members to work and possibly die in another part of the world, we owe them a debate,” Juarez says. “There needs to be a broader discussion within our society about what we are doing, and I think the Prime Minister needs to be a bit more honest about the objectives.” But others—including officials at the Department of National Defence—believe it is Juarez, not Stephen Harper, who needs to start telling the truth. “From my point of view, he doesn’t have any credibility,” says Commander Denise Laviolette, a spokeswoman for the chief of military personnel. “He wasn’t resisting anything because he wasn’t even in line to go.”

In March, after four years on the water, Juarez transferred from the full-time navy to the part-time army in the hopes of finishing his university degree while training to be an infantry officer. Now a reservist, Juarez was under no obligation to serve in Afghanistan. Part-time soldiers cannot be forced to deploy; they must volunteer. Juarez insists he intended to sign up for a tour by 2009, but then he began to question the military’s evolving Afghan strategy, which he describes as

war first, aid second. He became so disillusioned that during a training course in New Brunswick he simply refused to participate, citing personal and family reasons. But he never mentioned Afghanistan. “I kept that to myself,” he says, speaking by telephone from his home in Victoria, B.C. “I just wanted to make it easy so I could get out and, as a private citizen, express my point of view.” He got his wish. The Forces fined Juarez $500 and discharged him without honour.

ONE WEBSITE HAS GONE SO FAR AS TO DEMAND JUAREZ APOLOGIZE FOR MISLEADING THE PUBLIC

Since then, he has become a poster boy for peace, applauded in the press for his refusal “to train for the Afghan campaign.” To the military’s chagrin, most reports have failed to mention the obvious fact: Juarez was never bound for the war he now claims to resist. The Forces’ public affairs department has tried to set the record straight, but with little success. “We are not in a situation similar to other nations that have had numerous individuals desert because they didn’t want to serve,” Laviolette says. “We have had zero conscientious objectors and we have had zero

folks go absent without leave.” The Ruxted Group, a website that publishes defence-related commentary, has even gone so far as to demand that Juarez apologize for misleading the public. “The time has come for Mr. Juarez to come clean,” the site reads. “As a former service member, however briefly, we are sure he is still familiar with the concepts of personal responsibility and honour. As such, he knows that we cannot quietly accept his blatant disregard for the truth.”

Juarez insists he was never dishonest. “I was not in danger of being ordered to go to Afghanistan, and I try to make that very, very clear,” he says. “I haven’t been obfuscatory about that at all. I know in some of the articles it sort of sounds like it, but that was not my intention.” He believes his status as a reservist doesn’t change the fact that he is a bona fide war resister. “What is a war resister?” he asks. “How do we define a war resister? Certainly some people say you have to be in a situation where you are going to be sent and then you refuse. But I think there are many different kinds of war resisters.” Take the United States, for example. Some deserters deployed, then fled. Others simply refused to board the plane. “I sort of see myself in there somewhere,” Juarez continues. “But I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what kind of war resister I am. I just know that I oppose the mission as it is in Afghanistan and what Stephen Harper is doing to our country.” M