‘Everybody’s just being ignored’: Father of Capt. Nichola Goddard, first female Canadian soldier to be killed in action, highlights refugee crisis after fall of Kabul

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Tim Goddard at the Canadian Wall in the British Cemetery, Kabul. Photo: Contributed

When Capt. Nichola Goddard was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2006, becoming the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat, her family found solace from members of the Anglican church congregation where Nichola had also attended services. At that time, Nichola’s family lived in Calgary and worshipped at St. Barnabas Anglican Church. After her death, the family held a public funeral at St. Barnabas.

In the years that followed, members of the Goddard family retained a connection with Afghanistan. Nichola’s father, J. Tim Goddard—who is currently a professor of educational leadership and administration at the University of Prince Edward Island and attends Anglican worship at St. Peter’s Cathedral—went to Afghanistan to establish a network to educate teachers. Tim’s other daughter and Nichola’s sister, Kate, spearheaded Not Left Behind, an organization that seeks to help locally employed Afghans who supported Canadians during the war resettle in Canada.

The collapse of the Canada-backed government in Kabul this year has led to renewed debate about the meaning of the war in Afghanistan and Ottawa’s response to those left behind. Tim has publicly criticized the federal government for its response to the recent developments in Afghanistan. The Anglican Journal spoke to Tim Goddard on Sept. 28 about Nichola’s death, his feelings about the war and Canada’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How did Nichola’s Christian faith attitude inform her attitude to the military and the war in Afghanistan?

A. I don’t want to put words into her mouth, because this wasn’t really something that we talked about in any depth. I think that she liked being in the military. She liked what it stood for, she liked the camaraderie, she liked the community that she found there. But she went to Afghanistan because she was deployed there and they were given the option. Everybody volunteered, in a sense. They were in the military, but nobody was forced to go out. She went out more, I think, with an approach of helping, not as a crusade.

Captain Nichola Goddard MSM in Afghanistan, 2006. Photo: Contributed

She found the military, all aspects of it, to be good. She enjoyed it. But she liked the outreach stuff that she was involved with. Even when she was at Royal Military College in Kingston, she and Jason, her boyfriend at the time who became her husband, started a Scout group. When they deployed to Shiloh, Manitoba, she ran the Girl Guides there.

Being a helper is part of what she liked about the military. Obviously as things started going away from that peacekeeping kind of role in 2006, then her job changed a bit. But she was professional enough and she was in the job and she just did what she had to do.

Q. How did your own faith affect your response to the war and Nichola’s death there? You later established a network for teacher education in Afghanistan. Was that a reflection of your own Christian beliefs in any way?

A. I suppose in a way. I know one of my other daughters had recently started going back to church. She’d been away from church for a while through her university years, and she started going back to church the previous year, and she found that a great comfort when we lost Nichola to be able to hold onto that. For us, in terms of our response to her death, the fact that we had friends in the congregation [at St. Barnabas Anglican Church] who were equally impacted—they knew Nichola, they’d met her when she’d visited us and come to church with us—those friends shared that sorrow. They were a great comfort.

As far as my work in Afghanistan, that was with a non-government organization and it was a Canadian-funded project to rebuild teacher education. That’s partly what I’ve done in other post-conflict environments—in the Balkans in the early 2000s, in Lebanon in 2004-5—helping to rebuild education systems after conflict. So it wasn’t a new idea for me to go to Afghanistan.

When I was asked to be involved in that, I grabbed the opportunity. I think part of that was to show—whether this is faith-based or not, I’m not sure—but to show that I, myself, but our family generally, we don’t hold the Afghan people broadly responsible for what happened. The people I’ve met, people I’ve worked with in Afghanistan, they’re like people everywhere. They just want a better life for their kids and they want the system to help them support getting that.

Q. What went through your mind as you were hearing recent news about the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul?

A. Disbelief. Not that it happened, because I think pretty much anybody who thought this through from around 2010-11 onwards, everybody recognized that there would not be a continuing military presence by NATO and Western forces. Nobody was sure how long that would last, but that there would at some point be a transition to a full Afghan government, and at that point that the Taliban would probably make a political move, if not a military one. Nobody knew when it was going to happen. Then when it was announced by President Biden that the Americans were pulling out and then a specific date was given, then I think everybody sort of recognized that there would be a pushback from the Taliban.

But what went through my mind when it all went so quickly was a question of the intelligence that was being used to guide our decision-making—not just Canada, but everybody. It was either really bad intelligence, in which case somebody ought to be responsible for that, or it was good intelligence but it was ignored, which somebody also ought to be responsible for.

I could not believe that it went so quickly and everybody seemed so surprised. Then the way that Canada reacted, by closing our embassy and pulling everybody out, was a very risk-averse approach.

Q. Do you believe that the war was worth the cost, not just in terms of money but in terms of human lives? Has the fall of the Canada-backed government changed your views at all on the war?

A. Personally, I don’t think war at any time is worth the cost. That’s a conversation that I’d had with Nichola before she went out. I’m not a military person, I never have been. It’s not like she came out of a military family or anything. But I don’t see the point of war. So I don’t think any of it’s worth the cost.

But if the question is, will there be any impact from the time that we spent there and the work that Canadians and others did—I think there will be, and I think we’re seeing this already. The kind of work that my project is doing, that many Canadian projects [are doing], whether it be War Child or Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, or the German projects, the Swedish projects, Australian projects—they were all working on people development. They weren’t building bridges and infrastructure things.

Most of them, if not all, had a very strong gender component, because everybody was very aware in the first go-around of the Taliban back in the ’90s that they had been very, shall we say, old-fashioned in their approach to women and their abuse of women. So there was a lot of gender development going on, and [despite] the fact that the Canadian-backed government has failed, the fact that the foreign troops have left Afghanistan, those women have still got those ideas in their heads and in their hearts. Just because some guy turns up with a gun and says, “You’ve got to stop thinking,” that’s not going to happen.

We’ve had 20 years of incredible social development going on in Afghanistan, and I think that will mean [for] this iteration of Taliban government—we’re already seeing some cracks in it. There seem to be disagreements between different factions. We’re seeing pushback and demonstrations from women. So I think things are hopefully going to have a different outcome this time.

Q. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, you suggested that Nichola’s reaction to recent developments in Afghanistan might be one of anger, specifically relating to the army principle of not leaving people behind. Your daughter Kate is active in Not Left Behind, which seeks to help track down and assist interpreters and others. Could you tell me anything more about your views in this regard and your family’s involvement in helping Afghans find refuge in Canada?

A. One of the issues that Kate’s involved with is Not Left Behind. Kate and her husband Andrew have been crucial in that work, and I was not involved. That was their project. Part of the reason for that was they were contacted that Nichola’s interpreter was one of the people who was stranded in Kandahar and couldn’t get out and was very concerned for his safety because they were being targeted [by the Taliban].

Kate and Andrew got involved in that Not Left Behind project, mainly to push for the repatriation of the interpreters. They’ve been reasonably successful. Not everybody’s got out by any means. There’s a whole bunch that have got to safe houses in Kabul and now they’re stuck there, because our repatriation process has collapsed, once the Americans left or just before the Americans left. Nobody’s quite sure what’s happened now and how they’re going to get out. Others are out and en route and stuck in different places, and some are actually in Canada.

On my side, I’ve been working to try and get 38 people with whom I work closely, who had a close relationship with Canada—they were paid salaries by my project which was [funded by] Government of Canada money. In the eyes of the Taliban, they liaised with the enemy, so they’ve got targets on their backs. Then [there are] people that we worked with in the Ministry of Education whose job was to help us work with educators. They were the ones who ran the workshops, and we helped them design the workshops, who were looking at things like the role of women and gender fairness and gender equity. Again, these are all considered negative choices that they’ve made, according to the Taliban.

Goddard with a class of teacher education students in Bamyan, Afghanistan. Photo: Contributed

People are in great harm, so I’ve been trying to get these 38 people out. They’ve filled in all the forms and we are finding it a very frustrating process. There are two who actually did get out. One’s in Rome and one’s in Germany. We’re not sure when they’re actually going to get back to Canada. They were left on the runway in Kabul when the last Canadian flight left. Then the Americans took them to Qatar first and then to Ramstein [Air Base] in Germany.

They’ve been there since the beginning of September, like a month, sitting on an airport runway. They’ve been given bunk beds, I understand. But that’s ridiculous. They [spent] two days trying to get into Kabul airport with all the stuff that you saw on television of people in ditches. They were told to wear something red but not too obtrusive, like a scarf or something, stand in the crowd and shout “Canada!” That was the instruction that they got from our government [who told them] “Somebody will bring you into the gate.” After two days of doing that, this fellow and his wife and their six kids were taken in, they were told to sit by a Canadian flag. They did that, and then somebody came and said, “Oh, we’ve stopped flights now. Sorry, somebody’ll look after you, but we’re going.”

A day later, the Americans said, “OK, well, we’ll take you to Qatar.” They went to Qatar for three days, and then they got flown to Ramstein and they’ve been there ever since. My involvement in trying to help Afghans refuge in Canada is basically one of, “How angry can I get?” We had the [federal] election through all this, so we don’t have a minister as far as I can tell. Nobody answering any emails, and the prime minister has not yet put out a new cabinet. [Editor’s note: This interview took place Sept. 28, after the Sept. 20 federal election but before the announcement of a new cabinet Oct. 26.]

It’s like everybody’s just being ignored. People keep saying, “Well, there’s going to be 20,000 refugees coming.” Well, they’re coming from the camps. They’re already out of Afghanistan. They’ve been in camps for 20 years, some of these people. If somebody last week crossed the border into Pakistan, why would they get bumped to the head of the queue of the 2 million people who are already there? I think the whole Canadian response really needs a serious investigation.

Q. From a Christian perspective, why do you think it’s so important to help Afghans who worked with Canada’s military find refuge in Canada?

A. I think it’s part of our duty as Christians, as human beings, to help those in need. We can’t help everyone. We don’t have enough resources to save the world, as it were. But we say we love our neighbours as ourselves. Start with our neighbours, and the people in Afghanistan over 20 years became our neighbours. They became our support for that work that Canada was trying to do in Afghanistan.

Now we’ve just left them. We’ve turned our backs. From a Christian perspective, that’s wrong.

Q. Do you think Canada’s doing enough to support Afghan refugees and military veterans? If not, what kind of action should the government be taking?

A. The short answer is no, we’re not doing enough. I think that the kind of action we should be taking is one that’s active, that’s reaching out, that’s welcoming.

Both communities—whether it’s refugees or whether it’s veterans—a high proportion of them are going to be suffering from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and related stress. We can’t ignore that. We can’t pretend that’s not there. It means that there needs to be a gentleness to the approach. But it still needs to be active, and people need to be recognized for what they bring to the table. Whether they’re a refugee or a veteran who’s left the forces and is trying to transition to civilian life, they’re all people with skills, with experiences, with qualifications. I think we need to recognize those and try and provide some kind of pipeline that will give them access to jobs, to a community, to a life where they can use those skills and experiences and qualifications.

We’re seeing far too many veterans who are taking their own lives. We’re seeing far too many veterans who are finding it very difficult to transition to civilian life and ending up living on the street, and there are a few small projects which have been started. They tend to be locally funded, locally organized. There’s not like a coordinated federal response.

Memorial Wall, Kandahar Base. Photo: Contributed

We gave Nichola’s name to a house in Calgary that’s being built as part of a [project to build housing for veterans]. Homes for Heroes, they’re calling them. Basically they’re building a dozen or 15 houses around a block with a large house as well. People living on the street who have been able to give up their various addictions and are looking to transition back into a kind of “normal” life, they can apply for one of these houses. In the main house a full-time counsellor lives there, and they have a rec room and a social area. But they each have their own little “tiny home”, they’re called, and they’re in a community of 10, 15 people who all shared similar experiences.

But that’s privately funded. The government’s not involved in this. These are the kinds of things I think as a government, as a nation, we should be making—those active outreach initiatives.

Q. How can Anglicans help those, whether refugees or military veterans, who have been affected by the war?

A. That’s a really interesting question, one I’ve been thinking about. I think the key thing to do is to live local. You can think globally and you can be aware of all this and all the things that are happening [but] act locally. Start in a local community with any kind of outreach.

I don’t mean to be cynical here; it’s easy to give money to the Primate’s World Relief [and Development] Fund and say “Well, I’ve done my bit.” I think we have to go a step beyond that. I think we have to get our hands dirty. It can’t be in the abstract. We have to help out. Many communities have missions that work directly with people who are homeless. There’s often a veterans group within that. There are food banks. There are military family resource centres. There are a number of already organized groups who are trying to interact with people.

If people are physically able to go and help, then volunteer and go and help. If you can’t help, then at least direct the resources that you can spare to that local level.

It’s not an Anglican saying, although it possibly should be, but it was a thing I heard from a fellow: I was up in a place called Bamyan, which is way up in the mountains in central Afghanistan, and talking to a fellow who was acting as our local guide and interpreter for our visit to the teachers’ college in that area. We were just talking about things generally. He was trying to explain a concept which basically was this idea, he said, “Look, if everybody just looked after their neighbour, there would be no problems.”

Q. Sounds a lot like “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

A. That’s right. It’s similar to that, but this idea that if we all look after our neighbours and then the person you look after looks after the next neighbour sort of thing, then everyone gets looked after. I think that Christianity has to be lived as well as worshipped.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. Right now, I get emails and WhatsApp messages pretty much every day from people—these are not faceless people to me, these are people I know—who are sitting at home in Kabul terrified to go out, still waiting to hear [about] an application they put in at the beginning of August for the special visa program. Every time they contact the number or the email that Global Affairs keeps putting out, they get a note back saying, “Your application is being processed.” Six weeks they’ve had this. They’re living in absolute terror and they want to know what [I] can do about it, and there’s not a lot, because nobody’s answering my phone calls either.

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Matt Gardner

Matt Gardner

Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Gardner worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Gardner has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the Journal.

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