Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and a motion adopted by the committee on October 27, 2016, the committee will now resume its study on resettling Yazidi girls and women.
We have before us, by video conference from Stuttgart, Germany, Michael Blume, the head of the special quota project. I apologize for the slight delay to this portion of our hearing. Unfortunately, we had some committee business to attend to.
Mr. Blume, we will automatically go to questions. You have already presented to us previously.
We will go to Mr. Ehsassi, who is splitting his time with Mr. Tabbara.
Hello, Mr. Blume, and welcome back.
Allow me to begin by thanking you for your testimony last week. Obviously, the special quota project was an incredibly heroic effort. Thank you very much for that, and thank you for kindly making yourself available once again.
We heard during the course of that testimony that the Yazidi community has been going through a traumatic experience. The way it was put was that they have gone through transgenerational trauma. They've gone through collective trauma, and often have gone through individual trauma.
That said, the one thing that did catch my eye when I was reviewing the transcript was that as far as I understand it, the German model is to focus on individuals who have suffered through terrible atrocities.
Could you explain to us the merits of focusing on individuals rather than having individuals and their immediate family come to Germany, or in this case to Canada? Could you elaborate on the decision that was made under the special quota project, and why?
The situation in Germany was that a lot of refugees managed to come to central Europe, but most of them, who managed to cross several countries and seas and the like, were male, or they were families who could afford to pay for traffickers. If you think about the situation for women and children, who had lost their male relatives—their fathers or husbands—and had lost nearly everything, you can see that those emergency cases didn't have any chance to reach central Europe.
At that time, the political decision was to focus on these people who wouldn't make it on their own. We knew from people who had escaped from Daesh, and we knew even from Daesh propaganda, that Daesh killed many of the men and killed boys over the age of 13 and enslaved the women and children.
We knew there were a lot of women with small children literally left by themselves, and even if there were relatives, in some cases they had to take care of many other refugees in the family, so they were in a very desperate situation.
That was the reason we spoke to the Kurdish regional government to say we'd not take everyone but would focus on these very traumatized emergency cases who did not have any way to get psychological treatment. That was the reason we went after these emergencies.
Yes. Of course there is a war, and at the start of the mission sometimes we were five to 10 kilometres from Daesh. We had to take care that we wouldn't be attacked and that they wouldn't try to get a ransom if they got hold of some of our team.
On the other side, the Kurdish people in northern Iraq are very against Daesh. For example, in the region of Dohuk, Daesh didn't manage to strike with suicide bombers or the like because the people there don't like Daesh. It's not only about religion; it's also about Arab and Kurdish differences.
For example, in Erbil or in other regions, some attacks were done by Daesh. We had to be very careful, and we kept in close contact with our Kurdish allies. Of course, we have the German army and the American military there too.
In the end I'm glad to say that we didn't need to use any weapons, because we managed to fly under the radar and follow a certain security protocol.
In the meantime, on one side the security situation improved. Daesh is not as strong as it used to be, but then certainly I've heard about the freeing of Mosul, and one doesn't know how Daesh will react to that.
At the moment it's rather safe, but it would be good to think about security when travelling there.
Yes, exactly. We call them Frauenhäuser
in Germany. At the start, they were like the benchmark. We tried to reach out to the women and their situation, and also because we knew some of the women might testify against Daesh, so it was important that they would not only be secure but that they could feel secure. They would know that nobody could find them or anything.
We have shelters in 21 cities. We have some very small groups with, for example, eight people, and we have bigger ones with up to 100 people. In the end, every city is providing a shelter and a concept. We are even able to compare what's working best, what's working not so positively, and we are doing network meetings so we can share the experiences.
Just to give an example, with the very small shelters at the start, it's harder for people to adapt to the new environment, but with the very big shelters, there is a danger that a perilous society is forming. That's why we are trying to learn what's working and what's not working.
There were some media reports this week that the Kurdish government was expressing some displeasure with the Canadian government looking at this particular course of action. I know you stressed how important it was to collaborate with the Kurdish government on this issue.
I guess I have two questions. First of all, do you have any advice for our government on how to approach that relationship? Certainly it would be Canada's intent to ensure that the relationship is strong and solid.
Second, part of the resistance is through an acknowledgement that the Yazidi population, which is indigenous to the area, is so small and so greatly reduced, and there's a concern about the cultural genocide occurring in the region. Can you speak to the establishment of safe zones in the region? I know your Chancellor has called for this. Do you think it's something Canada should also be pursuing as part of its overall aid in the region?
We see the Kurdistan Regional Government not only as friends, but also as allies. They are fighting on the ground against Daesh. I think it's important that we support them and that we are helpful for them.
Even as we started our program, it was important for us that they wouldn't lose face by seeming to show the world that they couldn't take care of their own people, so we said we would keep it on a very diplomatic, secure, and safe level. We are just concentrating on the emergency cases. That was really helpful because, again, they are among the good people in the region. They are trying to build a democracy. Of course, there are fundamentalists in Kurdistan, too, but most of the people want a society that is diverse, democratic, and pro-western.
I would say the right way to approach the Kurdistan Regional Government would be a supportive one where they feel they are allies and are partners and that we wouldn't leave them just for a short show and then follow another course.
Then, of course, in Kurdistan there is this debate about what will happen in the future. A lot of the Kurds want to have independence from Iraq, which could lead to a struggle, but we hope that this course might be a peaceful one.
Then there is the question about which region the disputed areas will belong to. Will they belong to Iraq? Will they belong to Kurdistan? Then there is the issue of minorities.
I think it would depend on the diplomatic relationships.
For example, I think some states such as Jordan might be very ready to work with Canada. Other states might be more reluctant, or they might have things they expect from you in return. My idea when I started this program—and now you are planning, thankfully—was that I would go for a mixed approach. I would say, let's talk with the Kurdish regional government maybe for emergency cases and let's look at the other states such as Greece, Turkey, and Jordan for other things.
I'm not quite sure. It seems that your program is concentrated only on Yazidis. Our program was focused on vulnerable women and children. We were able to take some Christians and Muslims too. It was important for us. If you imagine talking in the region, it's maybe not helpful to say you are only helping people from one community. For us, it was good to say that we wanted to help the people who most needed the help. Of course, most of them are Yazidis, but it's not exclusive.
The committee will resume its hearing.
We have before us a number of departmental officials. From the Department of National Defence, we have Mr. Stephen Burt, the assistant chief of defence intelligence, Canadian Forces intelligence command. From Canada Border Services Agency, we have Mr. Denis Vinette, director general, international region. With the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, we have Ms. Catherine Parish, director general, security screening. With Global Affairs Canada, we have Mr. Reid Sirrs, director general, mission security, and Ms. Emmanuelle Lamoureux, director, Gulf State relations division.
Welcome to the officials.
We begin with Mr. Stephen Burt for five minutes, please.
Mr. Chair and members of Parliament, thank you for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon. It's my distinct pleasure to speak to you about the security situation in Northern Iraq. I'm also glad to be sitting next to my esteemed colleagues, who will be able to provide different perspectives on the region.
Before I talk about the security situation in northern Iraq, I'd like to provide some background briefly on the role of the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command.
The command's role consists of supporting the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces in making sound decisions in the exercise of their duties. Whether conducting operations in the Arctic, providing support for events such as the 2010 Olympic Games or the G8 summit, or carrying out overseas operations, the Canadian Armed Forces need the most accurate and up-to-date intelligence in order to achieve their military objectives and ensure the security and protection of their personnel.
I am assistant chief of defence intelligence, and my organization is responsible to provide timely, reliable, relevant, all-source analysis of defence intelligence issues to the department, the armed forces, and interdepartmental clients. We provide strategic warning and threat assessments to the department and to the CAF. Another important part of my mandate is to contribute to intelligence-sharing relationships with allied partners and countries.
Defence intelligence is also a key element in the ability of the government to make informed decisions on defence issues, national security, and foreign affairs. I can say with pride that our intelligence capability is world class and offers the necessary tools 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to give our leaders an information advantage in making those decisions. Intelligence is a leading factor in operational success.
I would also note that we benefit from productive relationships with our government partners, working closely with the Privy Council Office, the RCMP, CSIS, CSE, CBSA, and Global Affairs, to name a few. You and the Canadians you represent may be certain that your intelligence organizations are promoting the interests of this country in the areas of defence and security.
The Canadian Forces Intelligence Command focuses the vast majority of its energy on foreign military threats and support to Canadian Forces operations abroad.
Turning now to the subject at hand, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the volatile security situation in northern Iraq.
Northern Iraq is characterized by an intersection of conflicts among local, sub-state, and regional actors. Daesh currently provides a unifying enemy for these actors, but as Daesh weakens, we expect that they will all increasingly act in their own self-interest, often at each other's expense. Therefore, as the fight to dislodge Daesh from the city of Mosul progresses, the security situation in northern Iraq will become more fluid and unpredictable from the geopolitical standpoint.
We believe that as Daesh elements are defeated, the group will revert to acting as an insurgency and will increasingly pose an asymmetric threat rather than a conventional military one. Though Daesh is currently on the decline in Iraq, it still poses a significant threat to traditional state armed forces. As it loses territory, it will increase its use of terrorist attacks to distract the Iraqi security forces and the anti-Daesh coalition, as well as to foment sectarian tensions.
As such, we assess that even after the fall of Mosul, Daesh will retain the capability to target civilian populations and official Iraqi or Kurdish institutions throughout Iraq, including in what is considered to be cleared territory.
Regional and sub-state actors will almost certainly vie for influence in a post-Daesh northern Iraq, complicating an already difficult security situation. Sub-state actors, principally the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, and Shia militias, are aggressively posturing to be the dominant actors in several localities within northern Iraq. KRG forces and Shia militias have clashed with each other on several occasions and display deep mistrust and antipathy towards each other, raising the potential for localized conflicts across northern Iraq.
Regional actors, principally Iran and Turkey, are also seeking increased influence in Syria and Iraq. Both countries have increased their military presence in northern Iraq and are actively supporting proxy forces that serve their respective national interests.
Finally, I would like to note that as the conflict in northern Iraq has evolved over the last several years, we have seen population displacement used as a tool to achieve the political and security goals of various actors. Allegations of forced population displacement have been levelled at all sides in the Iraqi conflict—principally at Daesh, but also in some areas at Iraqi security forces, Shia militias, and Kurdish security forces.
While some Shias and Kurds have been affected, the majority of the displaced have been members of the Sunni community or various minority groups. The international community's resettlement efforts, while assisting the plight of refugees and other displaced persons, may also be used by various actors in northern Iraq to achieve their own political objectives.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation. Thank you for listening to me. I look forward to answering the questions of committee members.
As this committee is aware, the Canada Border Services Agency has a dual mandate of facilitating movement across our borders while ensuring and protecting the safety and security of Canadians. Together with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the CBSA administers the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which governs both the admissibility of people into Canada and the identification, detention, and removal of those deemed to be inadmissible under the act.
The CBSA's role in refugee determination is to provide support to IRCC by ensuring that refugees are screened to minimize all risk to Canadians. The process is the same when there is a national effort to extend humanitarian support to a particular group of people, as we did for Syria, although as the committee can appreciate, it requires a great deal more coordination across government departments, given the scale of these undertakings.
The CBSA has a well-established and well-respected practice in the area of security screening. It works closely with the relevant departments and agencies as well as with international partners to ensure the integrity of the process.
The CBSA’s role during the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative demonstrated that our security screening process is robust and proven. It's designed to be responsive to changing environments, and we are able to apply it consistently.
The process involves comprehensive interviews, the collection of information and biometrics to assist with confirming identity, and checks across a range of databases. It also involves working closely with our federal government partners to seamlessly integrate security screening at key points in the process.
We have successfully refined the process, and the CBSA is ready to work with our partners once again to meet and support the Government of Canada's commitment to bringing Yazidi refugees to Canada.
The CBSA's security screening practices ensure that every refugee coming to Canada in the wake of the humanitarian crisis will have undergone a multi-layered screening process prior to their arrival, allowing them to fly to Canada. It also ensures that refugees arriving in Canada have the proper travel documents and that they can be welcomed and processed by our border services officers for admission into Canada on their arrival.
Through thorough and efficient security screening, refugees and their families are able to arrive in our country and move on to their important work of settling into their new communities and starting a new life.
That concludes my remarks, and I would be more than happy to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I'm director general of the security screening branch in CSIS. My branch is responsible for providing advice and assessments to other government departments in support of their review of applications for status in Canada and for government security clearances.
I want to thank you for the invitation to appear in support of your study on the resettlement of the Yazidi refugees in Canada. I will keep my remarks brief. However, I would like to provide you with some insight into the service's role in supporting this effort. I will focus my remarks on the service's immigration security screening program.
Members may be most familiar with our section 12 mandate, which is to investigate and provide advice on threats to the security of Canada as defined in our act, such as terrorism, espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference.
Security screening is also one of our core mandates, and it is certainly the most relevant to the committee's study. Pursuant to section 14 of the CSIS Act, CSIS provides security advice to our immigration partners in support of the administration of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Section 15 authorizes CSIS to conduct investigations for such purposes.
It is important to note that CSIS does not have an enforcement mandate, nor do we decide who is granted entry or status in Canada. Our role is to provide advice to CBSA and IRCC, which contributes to the bigger picture examined by our partners in making decisions regarding an individual's admissibility to Canada.
With respect to our security screening program, we have robust processes in place to manage this important function. We also work closely with our partners on a routine basis.
These processes and partnerships work on a routine basis, but also lay the foundation for efforts we may consider more exceptional—for example, the resettlement of Syrian or Yazidi refugees, which may require a more concerted effort.
With regard to this resettlement of Yazidi refugees, CSIS is committed to working with our government partners and will support the security screening process by providing security advice.
To ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration system, the same high standards will continue to apply to all individual refugee claimants. Screening individuals from complex environments does comes with its own unique set of considerations; that said, CSIS is working with its partners to consider the process and requirements as a whole in light of the particular circumstances.
Though unique in its own right, it is useful to highlight the integral role CSIS played in fulfilling the Government of Canada's commitment to resettling Syrian refugees. CSIS was successful in achieving its security screening commitments and remains confident in the measures put in place. A robust and appropriate security screening was undertaken before applicants departed for Canada.
With that, Mr. Chair, I will conclude my remarks and welcome any questions.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and honourable members of the committee.
I have been asked to speak to you today to provide some background about Canada's presence in Iraq and to briefly discuss our relationship with the governments of Iraq and of the Kurdistan region of the country. I hope this will provide some useful context for today's discussion.
I can also address the question asked by the honourable member of Parliament about the number of IDPs displaced since the beginning of the Mosul operation. The response is 70,000, according IOM statistics.
Canada is in the process of expanding its diplomatic presence in Iraq as part of the commitments in its three-year strategy to counter Daesh and respond to the crises in Syria and Iraq. Until last spring, our presence in Iraq had consisted of a political officer in Baghdad and a small complement of local employees in Baghdad and Erbil. Canada's footprint has now expanded. In Baghdad, we've added a full-time Canadian development officer, a defence attaché and assistant, and a management and consular officer, along with several local employees. In Erbil, we have a new Canadian political officer and a military police security service position.
Despite our relatively small presence, our diplomatic staff in Baghdad has regular access to the Government of Iraq and to the UN at senior levels. We've also developed good relationships with officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and with local officials, such as governors and mayors. We expect that we will be able to deepen our existing relationships in Iraq and expand on our network of contacts as our mission continues to grow. This is particularly true in Erbil, where Canada has the smallest presence of any G7 nation, and where we have only recently created our first full-time Canadian officer positions. This new presence will be an important link to the Yazidi population for Canada, as they are mostly located in northern Iraq, and access from Baghdad requires air travel.
The Yazidis are particularly concentrated in four provinces of Iraq: the northern Nineveh province of Iraq, and the provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. The two biggest communities are in Sheikhan, northeast of Mosul, and in Sinjar, which is near the Syrian border, 80 kilometres west of Mosul. Both are in Nineveh province.
Since 2014, many Yazidis have fled Sinjar, ending up in the Sheikhan area, in camps for internally displaced persons that are mainly in Dohuk province, or as refugees in other countries, such as Turkey and Greece. At present, the area around Sinjar remains off-limits to our mission staff and Government of Canada officials because of the ongoing battle against Daesh in Mosul and in the greater Nineveh province area.
While progress is being made in the campaign to retake Mosul, there are still large areas that remain under the control of Daesh, in particular to the west of the city, where Sinjar is located.
The lDP camps in Dohuk province are more accessible, and our staff can travel fairly safely when accompanied by our security services provider. Though costly, this type of travel does not present a significant threat to the safety of our mission staff, and suitable accommodation is available in Dohuk should there be a need to remain for more than a day.
We know that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, is currently working on fulfilling its commitment to resettle Yazidi victims in Canada. Our mission staff will be able to provide support for this initiative should we decide to proceed with the resettlement of refugees from Iraq.
As a result of our contact with Iraqi officials and with the Yazidi community, we know there is a certain level of support for the idea of providing focused assistance to the most vulnerable among the victims of Daesh. We've also learned, through the media, about certain concerns. Our staff can ensure that Canada's resettlement program is subject to a proper consultation with all parties prior to implementation. It will be necessary to ensure this initiative receives the support of the broader community in Northern Iraq, especially at this important juncture in the fight against Daesh, when attention is turning towards mending sectarian divisions and allowing displaced populations to return to their homes.
One important consideration will be the duty of care for Canadian government staff, which is an overriding concern for Global Affairs Canada.
When the government decided to increase its operations in Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East to address the Daesh challenge to international and regional security, one of our first objectives was to gain a better understanding of the security environment and to design a security package to protect Canadians.
In March of this year, the regional security manager for the Middle East and North Africa travelled to Erbil to review potential locations for a Canadian office and to review the security environment to determine what would be required to create a secure environment for Canadian officials to work.
Two sites were identified as credible physical security environments for Canadian staff. Both sites were hotels with excellent physical security protections. Global Affairs Canada has new physical security standards, which will be implemented for the establishment of the new mission. These include perimeter protections such as walls and setbacks, interior controls for personal and vehicular access, and screening provisions.
At this point, we won't be too specific when outlining all our security measures. In addition to the physical measures, we reviewed the operational security measures. These measures range from movement protocols, to local security capacity, to access to medical facilities and reliable evacuation options.
Allow me to thank all the witnesses who have appeared before this committee today.
I have a lot of questions. I would like to start off with Mr. Burt, from the Department of National Defence.
Thank you for the statement you provided to us. You started off by saying that the situation in northern Iraq is very fluid and volatile, given that it is at the intersection of various conflicts.
One thing that caught my eye was a paragraph in which you said, “...the international community's resettlement efforts, while assisting the plight of refugees and other displaced persons, may also be used by various actors in northern Iraq to achieve their own political objectives.”
Could you explain to us the types of concerns you are relaying to us with that statement?
I'll try to hit on a few points in relation to your question.
First and foremost, we work extensively and closely with all our domestic partners. That's where it begins for us.
Once IRCC has selected some individuals as potential refugees to Canada and we receive those referrals, we then engage with all our law enforcement and security partners to make sure we do our due diligence domestically.
For sure we work with international partners. CBSA doesn't have a presence in Iraq, but liaison officers have been deployed to Amman in Jordan, and we have one in Istanbul, Turkey. They are responsible for the geographic area.
Due to the current situation in that area, we have not deployed a representative in that country, but we do work with those state entities through the missions to make sure that whatever is required in co-operation, information, and any type of facilitation is secured as part of these undertakings, as we did for Syria, to ensure that we're able to deliver on the screening mandate as well as facilitate IRCC in reaching final determinations on selection.
What gives us pause is when people are moving in and out of a region.
First of all, it's moving, say, from an airport in Erbil up to a processing centre in Dohuk, for example. The move on the road is, first of all, a dangerous move. People start noticing a pattern of vehicles moving back and forth at regular intervals. People staying in what we call static locations, who are in the same place for long periods of time to do processing of applications, are also of concern, because you have a lot of people arriving at a destination. They stay put. At the end of so many hours, they leave. That gets watched and monitored. That's where we actually are nervous.
As our colleagues were saying, it's all a collaborative effort of collecting the information. If they hear stuff, if they observe stuff, that will be passed on through the various chains of command to make sure their people on the ground are aware that people are watching, or to make sure they adjust their movement protocols or make adjustments to their actual security defence posture.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank you all for your presentations and for your patience with us and all our questions and also say that I appreciate all the expertise you're bringing to the table today.
In my past life I was an executive for a large financial institution. Whenever we had a very big project to deal, with we brought all the departments together, we gave it a fancy name such as Operation Bluebird, and then we had a sort of timeline and put some resources to it.
My question is—and I think my colleague asked a little bit of this, but I want to be very clear—has there been a meeting of not only the government department, IRCC, but also of all of you together to talk about this specific project?
My next question is to both Mr. Burt and Ms. Lamoureux.
The Germans mentioned to us that before they went in, as they were trying to bring over 1,100 Yazidi women and girls and family members, they decided to start off with a contract with the federal state of northern Iraqi Kurdistan. I'm wondering whether we should be doing something similar. The reason I ask is because of a comment that you've put into your note, Mr. Burt, where you say:
As such, the international community's resettlement efforts, while assisting the plight of refugees and...displaced persons, may also be used by various actors in northern Iraq to achieve their own political objectives.
I'm wondering whether that type of agreement might help us ensure that we're not inadvertently helping people we don't want to help, but actually help us achieve what we're trying to do.
If you can, answer that quickly, because I have two more questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses for coming and giving us your perspectives.
In the last half hour, I heard two versions here. Originally, when the members were asking questions, everybody indicated that it is possible in the next 100 days that we can bring these 1,000 Yazidi women and children, but after the last question from Ms. Zahid, I wasn't sure anymore.
Is it still possible? What is it? Can we bring them in the next 100 days, those 1,000 people?
I'd like to hear from Mr. Burt.
Maybe the best way to put it is that we queue up behind our colleagues at IRCC. They're in the driver's seat and they're looking to deliver on the agenda that they have been provided.
Anything that brings the required clarity to the objectives, the outcomes that are sought to be achieved, allows us to queue up and ensure that the processes, which are long-established.... We've been receiving individuals in Canada for many years. Whether it's from an earthquake in Haiti, a war in Lebanon, or other things, we've been able to be responsive to bring it together. The processes are well established, but the clarity I think becomes key for us in terms of when we launch, what we are doing, how fast we have to do it. Knowing that allows us to bring the resources together.
Again, it's a very mature process. We just have to put it on steroids in certain circumstances, this possibly being one. Certainly Syria was one. In regard to your question earlier, I think collaboration and governance are really key to making sure that it happens and that we deal with any hiccups, as I'll call them for lack of a better word, so that they are addressed really quickly and we don't unduly delay things.
That said, we continue right to this day to support the overall Syrian effort. We still have many refugees arriving through the refugee stream. It's just making sure that as we layer this effort on top of that one, we're capable of maintaining the pace on all fronts.