Parents of Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan say a memorial is more important than an inquiry
'Nobody wants to hear that their child died in a pointless war': Sally Godard
The parents of the first Canadian woman killed in combat in Afghanistan say recent news reports about U.S. military officials misleading the public about the war should encourage steps to ensure those who died in the war are properly remembered.
Sally and Tim Goddard told CBC's The House on Thursday that they don't believe a public inquiry is needed in the wake of Washington Post stories that show the extent to which senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials knew the mission lacked clear objectives, troop deployments were inadequate and a democratic government in Afghanistan could not survive without western military support.
Those disclosures have sparked calls for a proper accounting of Canada's role in the war.
But the Goddards said they would prefer to look ahead, not back. They want the federal government to cut through the "Gordian knot" of bureaucracy to ensure a long-overdue monument to Canada's mission is built.
Capt. Nichola Goddard of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery was killed on May 17, 2006, during a firefight in the Panjwaii area west of Kandahar, Afghanistan, while she was serving with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
Sally Goddard said each family of a fallen soldier has a place to go to remember their loved ones, but Canadians need a communal place to pay their respects — and time is running out.
"It's 14 years almost since Nichola was killed. We're getting older and so are the parents of the fallen and I think the monument [going] up sooner rather than later would be terrific," she said.
Site for federal monument finally approved
In June, the National Capital Commission finally approved a site for the monument to Canada's mission in Afghanistan. The project has faced several setbacks due to disputes over previously proposed locations.
The approved location is across the street from the Canadian War Museum and behind the National Holocaust Monument. Design work is expected to start in the coming months and the memorial's unveiling is scheduled for 2023 — nine years after it was promised by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
A cenotaph built by troops in Kandahar was later transferred to the Department of National Defence's headquarters in Ottawa, but it is not readily accessible. Members of the public may visit it, but they must register 48 hours in advance.
It was rededicated in August, months after the Canadian Forces were criticized by families and the public for dedicating the cenotaph in May with only senior officials present. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance later apologized for the situation.
Tim Goddard said he just wants the government to get the monument built.
"I just don't understand why somebody can't just say, 'Do it,'" he told The House.
Call for public inquiry
He added a monument would be more meaningful to his family than an inquiry — which is what Pat Stogran, Canada's ex-veterans' ombudsman and the former commanding officer of the first Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, called for this week.
"We should have a public inquiry to make sure that Canadians understand the current security situation in the world and they don't get hoodwinked by the government into sending sons and daughters into harm's way without a plan," he told CBC Radio's The Current.
"I'm not sure about the usefulness of an inquiry," Tim Goddard said.
"A retroactive review of what happened isn't going to change anything, it's not going to bring anybody home. What we're seeing now, five years after we finished the active combat role, is the lack of a plan for transition, the lack of a plan for looking after people who are coming out of the armed forces with PTSD, who are homeless.
"We don't have a plan for that, so putting in a lot of money and effort into looking at why we did things back in 2002, 2003, 2004, I think I'd rather see that money spent on doing things now."
'She believed in the mission'
The so-called "Afghanistan Papers" — the trove of documents released to The Washington Post — include notes and transcripts of interviews with key players in the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
They show those in charge of the effort consistently misled politicians and the public about how the war was going and suggested a democratically elected government in Afghanistan could not survive without military support.
For many survivors of the war, the reports also call into question whether the deaths of 165 Canadians in Afghanistan were in vain.
Sally Goddard said her daughter died defending what she believed was right.
"Nobody wants to hear that their child died in a pointless war," she said.
"Nichola died believing she was doing her job and I guess that's what we hang onto. It would be great to blame all kinds of people, but I don't think we can do that. She chose to go to Afghanistan. She believed in the mission, she believed that they were helping."