I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 57 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Today we will continue our study of the government's response to the final report of the special committee on Afghanistan. With us is the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Welcome, Minister, and thanks for appearing before the committee.
He is joined by officials from the Department of Justice. Today we have Robert Brookfield, director general and senior general counsel, criminal law policy section; and Glenn Gilmour, counsel, criminal law policy section.
Minister, you will have five minutes for your opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I wish to thank the members of this committee for inviting me to speak about the government response to the final report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan called “Honouring Canada's Legacy in Afghanistan: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis and Helping People Reach Safety”.
I'd also like to thank my colleagues from the Department of Justice, Robert Brookfield and Glenn Gilmour.
My remarks will focus on those recommendations from the final report that relate to my responsibilities as the Minister of Justice, specifically those that relate to changes to the Criminal Code.
As you likely know, my colleague the introduced Bill earlier this month to address the issues raised in this area of the report. It has now been referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I hope all colleagues can work together to advance this important legislation expeditiously.
Recommendations 10 and 11 of the final report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan called for two things. First, they called for clarity in the law and, in particular, a specific exemption to the terrorism-financing offence in paragraph 83.03(b) to allow registered Canadian organizations to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance and other basic goods to the people of Afghanistan without facing the risk of criminal liability. Second, they called for the government to review the terrorism-financing provisions in the Criminal Code and to take the urgent legislative steps necessary to ensure that those provisions do not unduly restrict legitimate humanitarian action that complies with international humanitarian principles and law.
After the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Canada responded to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 and enacted, within months, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2001. Among other things, this act amended the Criminal Code to create several offences designed to prevent acts of terrorism, which included three terrorism-financing offences.
Enacted rapidly to deal with the important threat from terrorism that the world was facing, those offences are broad and strict in their application.
One of these offences is found in paragraph 83.03(b) of the Criminal Code. That offence makes it a crime to directly or indirectly collect, make available, provide or invite someone to provide property or financial or related services, knowing they will be used by or will benefit a terrorist group. The legislation created in 2001 does not create any statutory exemptions to that offence.
In contrast, the regimes of many of our allies, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom, are more flexible and can accommodate targeted exceptions, which has allowed them to amend their regimes more quickly in response to the current reality in Afghanistan and to contribute to international aid efforts.
This brings us to the situation in Afghanistan today. Before August 2021, many NGOs were working diligently to provide humanitarian assistance and other kinds of assistance to the people of Afghanistan, often with financial assistance from governments.
As we are all too well aware, all that changed in the spring and summer of 2021 when the Taliban swept into power. Although Canada does not recognize the Taliban regime as government, the Taliban has de facto authority in Afghanistan and performs normal state functions, such as tax collection.
Looking at it from a Canadian perspective, there are good reasons for concern about the application of the Criminal Code to the activities of Canadian NGOs and government officials who assist them. Should they make payments, knowing that some of those monies would go to the Taliban, a terrorist group, for example by paying for salaries of Afghan employees who are subject to income tax, they could risk criminal liability under the terrorist financing offence in paragraph 83.03(b).
Bill will create an authorization regime that would allow the to grant an authorization to Canadian organizations to conduct activities falling within a specified purpose, such as providing humanitarian assistance or providing health care or education, in Afghanistan or other areas controlled by a terrorist group. Those who receive an authorization and respect its terms would be shielded from the risk of criminal liability when carrying out those authorized activities. A national security review would be required, and other procedural safeguards would remain in place.
This change would allow Canadian humanitarian organizations to continue operating in Afghanistan and to deliver desperately needed assistance, while continuing to protect Canadians through robust anti-terrorist laws and close oversight.
Thank you again, Madam Chair, for inviting me to speak. I'm available to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to start my questions by thanking the minister for taking the time to appear at this committee and for answering these very important questions for the many people in our communities.
As Canadians we do take pride in our history of helping other countries, countries that are in the most vulnerable situations. We have a long-standing commitment, as a government, toward Afghanistan. The work that you've done and that we've done reflects our values as Canadians. We have to continue to provide pathways to provide humanitarian aid in ways that don't violate our strong anti-terrorism laws.
Could you comment on what criminal laws apply in Canada with respect to financing terrorism?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Minister, thank you for being here. I understand that you were anxiously awaiting your appearance before the committee today and I thank you for that.
At the February 7, 2022, meeting of the Special Committee on Afghanistan, I first asked a question about Canadian NGOs not being able to do their work on the ground in Afghanistan under Canada's Criminal Code. On February 17, 2022, I sought unanimous consent to introduce a motion to permit Canadian NGOs to do their work on the ground without fear of prosecution, and as I understood it, the cabinet blocked that motion. Subsequently, a number of ministers and NGOs appeared before the committee.
So the problem was identified quite some time ago. Why did it take so long for this bill to be introduced, Mr. Minister?
You took a long time to step up even though you knew the situation was very serious and you were aware of the problem.
What's more, you talked about Resolution 1373 adopted in 2001 by the U.N. Security Council. You said that it took the government a few months to enact legislation to accommodate and amend the Criminal Code in response to that resolution.
On December 22, 2021, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2615 was tabled to prevent the financing of terrorist entities and to allow NGOs to do their work on the ground.
Why did it take only a few months to respond to a U.N. Security Council resolution in 2001, but it took 18 months in 2021?
Before we go to Ms. Kwan, I will just remind you that all questions should be directed through the chair and, please, one person at a time.... If a question is being asked, opportunity should be provided to the witness to answer the question.
We will now proceed to Ms. Kwan.
You have six minutes, Ms. Kwan. Please begin.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister and officials, for being here today. I think we've been waiting for a long time to engage with you. We very much appreciate this.
The NDP, of course—through my colleagues , who is the foreign affairs critic, and , who is the public safety critic—wrote to the government on this issue back in December 2021. Subsequently, a follow-up letter was written, in February, to various ministers, asking why action couldn't be taken.
This was especially in light of the testimony presented to the Special Committee on Afghanistan by NGOs that were unable to provide aid on the ground to people who were in desperate need. In fact, World Vision indicated—as did a number of NGOs that came—that, because of these anti-terrorism laws, children were dying of malnutrition. They had packets ready to go and ready to be delivered on the ground, in order to save lives. They were unable to do so.
I'm really struggling to understand why it's taken, basically, two years for Canada to get to this stage, where this Criminal Code change is finally before us for deliberation.
Thank you for the question.
Look, I understand the frustration. Certainly, there was a challenge in front of us, in Afghanistan. It was a rather unique situation: a terrorist sect that then became a de facto government and authority.
My role, in all of this, is to act and look at the legal context. I think we have, now, in this law, a piece of legislation that amends the Criminal Code and works within the Canadian context. It protects these organizations and their very good work on the ground, while respecting the various structures of investigation and prosecution in Canada. It ensures they won't be prosecuted.
This, in my view, is the best way forward. It is in response to a very complex situation.
Minister, that doesn't answer the question of why it took so long.
In the Afghanistan committee, we had different ministers come forward. Each of us, across party lines—to be honest with you—asked the various different ministers about this. Each of them passed the buck and said it was someone else's responsibility. Ultimately, they pinned it on you, the justice minister, in terms of the law that needed to be dealt with, with respect to the Criminal Code. It's taken two years for us to get here.
I suppose it's water under the bridge, so to speak. It's accepting that lives were lost because Canada took so long. Other jurisdictions managed to do a carve-out without this long, arduous process we have to engage in.
Now we have this legislation before us, and there are still problems.
Doctors Without Borders wrote and indicated they're deeply concerned with the legislation. In fact, they're saying they can't support it. They're saying that it's “incompatible with the level of flexibility and urgency required for delivering emergency humanitarian response.” They indicated that this legislation does not provide for a humanitarian exemption in the Criminal Code to remove any risk that their staff or their organization could be charged with a criminal offence for delivering medical care to a patient in a place where Canadian anti-terror laws apply.
I would love to hear your response to that. Why could we not have brought in legislation to ensure that a humanitarian exemption is being applied?
First of all, I disagree with Doctors Without Borders' characterization. The law, as proposed, provides an extremely large degree of flexibility to the to grant a humanitarian exemption, including for the kind of work Doctors Without Borders provides on the ground. I disagree quite strongly with their interpretation. I think this law is adequate to do that. I think it does, in fact, allow them an exemption from prosecution.
Again, I'm not going to pass the buck, in the sense that I won't talk about things discussed in cabinet. That's a matter of cabinet confidence.
The Canadian legal system is such that there are independent prosecutions undertaken by various Crowns across Canada—federal and provincial. There are independent investigations undertaken by police authorities. They are independent of me and the government. There's no way, as the Attorney General in the government, that I can tell a prosecutor to prosecute or not to prosecute. That is a power other countries have, like the United States, for example. They can carve it out.
We can't carve it out in the same way. We needed a piece of legislation. We now have a piece of legislation. We have, I think, a good piece of legislation.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I just want to add a few things to some of your comments that have already been said, Mr. Minister. Thank you for being here, by the way.
Canadian humanitarian agencies have been calling for that legislation for quite some time. I'm deeply troubled that it took your government this long to introduce Bill .
There are millions of Afghans who are in desperate need of food and other supplies, critical supplies. Time is still of the essence. You must have known of the dire straits that Afghan women and children are currently in. This has been asked before, but in light of the fact that, as you say, the is going to be here shortly—we're not aware he's going to be here before at least the end of April—I'm going to ask you again.
What's your excuse for taking so long to table a relatively straightforward piece of legislation? Don't you talk to the ministers?
Granting a humanitarian exemption is still an amendment to the Criminal Code, first of all.
Second, the fight against terrorism is still important. Quite frankly, if we had done that, certain parliamentarians would probably be angry, saying we've become soft on terrorism. We can't have that happen either. It is still important we track terrorist activities, including a government like the Taliban and including other groups around the world. This piece of legislation effects a very important balance.
The fight against terrorism is still important, but the fight to provide humanitarian aid on the ground is also important. We have carved out a pretty good exemption between the two, using the Criminal Code, because that's what we had to do.
Mr. Minister, thank you very much for taking part in this committee meeting.
I had the honour and privilege of being with you when Bill was announced. It was very well received by the people who were there. It also shows how important cooperation is to the government, since your department is not the only one involved, as you so rightly said. In fact, several departments were involved in the collaborative effort that led to introducing Bill C‑41.
I know that we like to talk here about what's not, but let's not forget that of our commitment of the 40,000 there are close to 30,000 Afghans here in Canada currently
Minister, I know that the , during that particular conference, referred to how, since August 2021, we have been still providing humanitarian assistance in many forms through various organizations, such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. From that perspective, there may be individuals who could say that the law already did allow for humanitarian aid to be provided.
Can you share some thoughts about that and the importance of Bill being brought in?
I will do the same as you and start in French.
First, thank you for the question.
With respect to the first part of your comments, you're right. It's not true that we haven't done anything for Afghanistan. We've worked a great deal with Afghanistan. We've already welcomed 30,000 of the 40,000 refugees we promised to take in. We've worked a lot with our allies and agencies on the ground to help people immigrate here or to provide assistance in other ways.
In a system where I can't dictate prosecutorial decisions and I can't dictate investigations, when to investigate or not, the only secure way to create an exemption for humanitarian aid on the ground, to the extent that it might touch on anti-terrorist financing, is to do what we've done here.
There were a number of people advancing interpretations who said, “You don't even need to do this; it can be done.” That would rely on the discretion of individuals the government has no control over. At the end of the day, if it happens that someone decides to investigate, one prosecutor decides to go ahead, then they get angry with the government and ask, “Why did you let this happen?” It's independent.
This is the way, in the Canadian structure of investigations, that we could do it. We have done it. I'm proud of the bill, and I think it will have a major impact on the ground.
Thank you very much for that response.
I represent the Orleans community, which has strong historical ties to Afghanistan, not only in the community but also in members of the military, people who have mobilized to help the Afghan people throughout those 20 years.
I wanted to ask...and you sort of alluded to this. It's interesting how this conversation is happening here, because we're saying, “tough on crime” and “not tough on crime”.
A deep desire and sensitivity led us to this course of action, but we had to do it within certain parameters.
Could changing the Canadian law here undermine our ability to combat terrorism? I think that's very important and relevant in the context of the global situation.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Minister, you tell us that Bill is the solution. I am announcing that the Bloc Québécois will support you and will try to get this bill passed as quickly as possible. If necessary, we will try to negotiate amendments informally. That way, when it comes time to work in committee, things will move forward quickly if all parties agree.
You seem surprised to be asked why it took so long for this bill to be introduced. Since earlier, your only answer to the committee has been that, in order to protect cabinet confidence, you can't reveal what goes on behind the scenes.
If Bill is the solution, that means it's been there all along, because nothing has changed since the problem was identified. When asked why it took so long, you tell the committee that it was because you were having discussions. So we infer it's your discussions that took a long time before you came up with this solution.
Earlier, you yourself brought up U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373. You're the one who brought it up. You may say that you werren't in office at the time, but you were the one who touted the fact that, after Resolution 1373 was passed, the Liberal government of the day acted very quickly. If they were able to act quickly in 2001, I can't understand why it was any different after that.
If the solution has been there all along, but it was your discussions that took time, does that mean the ministers in place in 2001 were much more competent than the current government?
I can respond first to that comment because I think you've misinterpreted. Sadly, you've misinterpreted—and in good faith, I would imagine—what I said.
What I said in response to my colleague was that we were doing what we could to help Afghan people through other international organizations. It wasn't meant to replace what could be done to help Canadian organizations. It was doing what we could do at the time in the face of a humanitarian crisis. We did that, and that's all I meant. I have worked in good faith to try to bring forth this current piece of legislation and I will continue to do that—again, to help Canadians.
With respect to Canadians who might be working for other international organizations, my understanding is that they would already be covered by the country of that exemption, but I would ask Robert or Glenn to add to that.
Madam Chair, from what I understand, the Attorney General is the chief law officer of the Crown, which means he represents the Crown and not individual departments or agencies of the government and, therefore, seeks to protect the interests of the whole government.
For the Attorney General, I want to better understand how delegations of authority work in the department.
For those who might be listening, the delegation of authority is an official process that defines exactly who has the authority to make certain decisions, such as committing to spending money or issuing citizenship and that sort of thing. Generally, a minister, from what I understand, delegates authority down to the deputy minister, who in turn might delegate it down further to another senior staff.
Minister, is it the practice of this government for a minister in one department to delegate authority to a political staff member in another department?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, I would love to thank the honourable minister for appearing before the committee. It has always been an honour to work with him in his role as a minister and in his role as a parliamentary secretary before that.
Madam Chair, the Special Committee on Afghanistan has done great work. Members of all different stripes came together and made those recommendations. Those recommendations are being put in place.
I have some questions before I give the minister plenty of time to respond to any of the issues he wanted to speak to but was cut off from during other remarks. First, how is this legislation better than the status quo? That is what I would like to hear and have Canadians listen to.
Thank you, Mr. Dhaliwal, for that question. Again, it's a pleasure to work with you, as well, although our time way back in international trade ages both of us, probably me more than you.
The status quo creates uncertainty. It creates legal risk for Canadian humanitarian organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan, because it would rely on the discretion of both police investigators and prosecutors to not prosecute them under the fairly clear terms of the Criminal Code of Canada.
While one would hope, I suppose, in an ideal world, that discretion would be exercised in a way that benefits Canadian humanitarian organizations, one can't guarantee it. The organizations were looking for certainty. They want to be able to say to their workers, the people who are collaborating with them and the people who are working for them on the ground that they will be protected from being prosecuted under the Canadian anti-terrorist financing regime.
What this law does is give certainty. How? It does that by allowing an organization to apply to the for an exemption from the provisions of the Criminal Code. That happens, and hopefully, it will be done. Hopefully, the law will be passed quickly. Hopefully, the organizations are already preparing their applications to the Minister of Public Safety, and then immediately they'll be able to get that approval, an exemption, and they'll be able to do the good work that they do on the ground without fear of prosecution in Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Dhaliwal.
With that, this panel comes to an end.
On behalf of all the members of this committee, I really want to thank you, Minister, for appearing and taking the time.
Thank you to the officials also.
With that, the meeting is suspended for a few minutes to allow the next panel to take their seats.
For this panel, we are joined by the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence.
Thank you, Minister, for joining this committee.
We are also joined by the officials from the Department of National Defence. We have Mr. Bill Matthews, deputy minister; General Wayne D. Eyre, chief of the defence staff, Canadian Armed Forces; and Major-General Paul Prévost, director of staff, strategic joint staff.
Minister, you will have five minutes for your opening remarks. Then we will go to our round of questioning.
Welcome to this committee. You can please begin.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to appear today to update you on the Department of National Defence's response to the final report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan.
Under Operation Aegis, the Canadian Armed Forces responded swiftly to support federal efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens and Afghans eligible for resettlement, providing strategic airlift capabilities to help bring them to safety. In the final report, National Defence is implicated in recommendations 1, 2 and 18. Today, I will discuss the actions that we have taken to respond to each.
First of all, recommendation 1 calls for the government to re-examine our lessons learned from our missions in Afghanistan and to apply those in future planning and response.
The Canadian Armed Forces conducted a number of exercises, at all levels, after Operation Aegis ended to identify areas for improvement in relevant policies, programs and operations. As a result, our coordination mechanisms have grown stronger, and we have built on the success of our strategic airlift operations in Afghanistan, as well as in co-operation with allies and partners, which was so critical to that success.
We see this in the work that continues today in Ukraine, as the Canadian Armed Forces provide technical airlift capabilities to support military aid donations in Europe.
We have deployed the Royal Canadian Air Force to Prestwick, Scotland, a hub from which our aviators have transported over seven million pounds of Ukraine-bound military aid.
The second recommendation calls for the federal government to establish “a structure for interdepartmental coordination” to respond to future crises, with Global Affairs Canada as the lead.
National Defence participates in the interdepartmental task force that brings together the departments from across government implicated in a given crisis to enable a timely, effective and comprehensive whole-of-government response. We have seen time and time again that, during international crises, the Canadian Armed Forces rise to the challenge and provide critical capabilities for the government and the country. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
But we know these are just one part of the broader toolkit to address complex global issues.
We will continue working closely with Global Affairs Canada and collaborating with our other government partners to respond to emergencies at home and abroad.
Finally, recommendation 18 calls for Global Affairs “to assemble a whole-of-government team” to help bring Afghans to safety.
Since the outset of the crisis in Afghanistan, National Defence has worked closely with other government departments to bring as many Afghans as possible to safety. We continue to support IRCC with their goal of resettling 40,000 Afghans by 2024.
This includes validating applications in support of IRCC's new policy to help reunite former language and cultural advisors with members of their extended family outside Canada.
In conclusion, Canadian Armed Forces members have shared their stories about what Operation Aegis meant to them.
Corporal Mackenzie Birch recalls evacuating a child on the second-to-last flight out of Kabul in August. The child carried by his mother was exhausted and drained of emotion. Many months later, Corporal Birch saw that child once again, this time on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver. The young boy was one of many Afghan refugees on the plane who were headed to Vancouver to build a new life.
Corporal Birch felt so much optimism seeing that child who months earlier could barely manage a smile, but was now happy and full of hope for a better, brighter future.
Corporal Birch realized he had become part of the story of Operation Aegis, and part of the effort and sacrifice of thousands of Canadians and Afghans over the past 20 years: the CANSOFCOM members helping the vulnerable and the elderly; the aircraft officers working tirelessly to help the scared passengers; and the medical team tending to those who needed it most. That is the story of Operation Aegis.
That connection is what drives us to keep working hard, every day, to advance peace and prosperity around the world.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Minister.
I want to provide some context for my questions.
My husband is an American combat veteran, and he served in Afghanistan. It was something to watch his reaction to the fall of Afghanistan, from my campaign office, while many of my constituents were pouring in with requests for Afghans' evacuation and while the government was in caretaker mode.
That's something.... I'd like to get you on the record that it's not a situation our country should be placed in again.
The last time you appeared on this issue—I think it was several months ago, at the special committee—there were still, by all accounts, several thousand Afghans with bona fide connections who served in our country's efforts in Afghanistan and who had not been evacuated.
I reviewed the federal budget, yesterday. Why wasn't there significant additional funding for the Canadian Armed Forces, particularly given there was clearly a capacity gap in this area?
Thank you for the question.
Of course, it's very important to do a review of missions and operations. As I said, the situation on the ground in summer 2021 was very challenging. We now have ambitious goals and we've made significant progress toward achieving that. The goal of resettling at least 40,000 Afghan nationals to Canada as quickly and safely as possible remains our priority.
That is the situation for all of our operations. No matter what operation or country we are talking to, the question is always what we can do in that specific situation.
For further comment, I will turn it over to the chief of the defence staff.
On May 9, 2022, I sat before the Special Committee on Afghanistan and testified with some emotion about my pride in our personnel for what they had accomplished during that mission.
I will continue in English, given all the technical terms.
From our perspective, we had not had a sizable—or any—military force on the ground since 2014 when we withdrew from Afghanistan. In fact, I was at ISAF headquarters in Kabul when we lowered the flag.
For a period of seven years, we had no sizable military presence there, and our ability to project force across the globe into a highly contested environment with our air capabilities, with our special operations capabilities and with our global signals capability, and to extract as many Afghans as we did, speaks to the ability, the passion and the proficiency of our members.
Madam Chair, I'm very proud of what our members accomplished in some extremely difficult conditions. We've learned and we've continued to apply the lessons over the last number of years.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much, Madam Minister.
I'd also like to thank the witnesses for their work and their military service. I'm very grateful to them for taking the time to attend today's committee meeting.
Madam Minister, in your opening remarks, you mentioned recommendation 18. It was originally the Conservatives' idea to move a motion to create the Special Committee on Afghanistan, but you should know that the Bloc Québécois introduced an amendment that, with the concurrence of the Conservatives, called for the committee to be tasked with issuing recommendations with a focus on what needed to be done not only to help Afghans in the immediate term, when the committee was sitting, but also to improve our response to other international crises of this kind in the future.
Recommendation 18 calls for you to establish a whole-of-government team. How are intergovernmental discussions about this team going?
Thank you for the question.
Of course, we're working hard with our partners in government to continue to build on the lessons learned from this and other crises. This is what our government does every time, whether it's in Ukraine, Haiti or Afghanistan. We share the lessons learned.
Every recommendation from this committee is very important to us, because this committee's work is important too.
We continue to work very hard with our partners in government to ensure that next time we will have learned from these lessons to improve our response.
Of course, on this whole-of-government team, you work closely with Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Even before the Special Committee on Afghanistan made its recommendations, the Bloc Québécois had proposed that a permanent emergency mechanism be established at IRCC in the event of a natural disaster or armed conflict of international proportions, such as the earthquake in Haiti, for example, or the fall of Kabul.
We learned that the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship had asked its officials to look into this avenue. It does affect you because when you attempt to get people out of certain countries, you actually must work with IRCC to get them into Canada.
Do you find it takes too long? Are you hopeful that this mechanism will be put in place swiftly?
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Minister.
We are not privy to progress made inside the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, but we do hold discussions on all of these crises weekly, if not daily. The Afghanistan issue is a unique crisis. The interdepartmental governance system involves deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, of which I am one. Just yesterday, I discussed the Afghanistan issue with my counterparts at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
To give you an example, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Department of National Defence and the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship worked quickly. The Minister of National Defence approved the deployment of 100 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Poland to assist the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in dealing with the flood of refugees crossing from Ukraine into Poland. So these are—
Madam Chair, thank you for the member's question.
The files that DND, CAF and my team vet for IRCC are files where applicants apply to the SIM program. We didn't refer on our own files to IRCC as a department. We just make sure that the files submitted to immigration have a significant nexus to CAF—members who have served in Afghanistan with us. We have to establish that link, and the way we do that is by looking at the referrals. Sometimes the Afghan national will submit the names of people he worked for and we contact those individuals. We look at the contracts we had with all the Afghans.
We go through a whole bunch of databases to make sure there was a significant relationship with the CAF, after which we validate that and provide the answer to the .
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the minister for being here along with members of the defence team. I want to thank those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for the work they did in getting out who they were able to. I can only describe what happened there as chaotic, dangerous and precarious. It was unbelievable watching it on TV, so for being on the ground and having to deal with it, and making sure that all those who served over there got out and helping those Afghans get out, you share our gratitude.
To follow up on what Ms. Kwan was saying, both Deputy Minister Matthews and General Eyre appeared before the special Afghanistan committee. He said at that point in time back on May 9 that 7,500 Afghans had contacted the Department of National Defence and said that they were either interpreters or had been locally engaged staff. Of that, 3,800 made the cut. What's changed in a year so that you don't have the number?
Madam Chair, on the numbers of files that we've confirmed, for which we've established a link with the CAF, we have vetted nearly 4,500 files—4,498 to be exact. We've established a direct link. I cannot provide the member with how many of them are interpreters or contractors of any...but we've established that link for 4,500. Of those files, because the program is at 18,000 and is nearly full, we are ready to submit files as IRCC is asking for those files. Right now, we've submitted 1,850 files for IRCC to invite Afghans. Obviously you have to multiply by the number of family members, but now we're nearly close to the 18,000 Afghans to be called.
Even this morning, I provided an extra 160 files to IRCC so they can maximize the room left in the 18,000.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the honourable minister, her deputy minister, the chief of the defence staff and the director of staff for being with us today.
Minister Anand, your name, “Anand”, means bliss and happiness. It's always blissful and happy to work with you on compassionate issues such as Afghanistan. Not only do you work really hard to address those issues, but you work very passionately.
On this, Minister, you appeared at the Special Committee on Afghanistan. During your appearance, you spoke about the effects of the Canadian Armed Forces being pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014 and the impact that had on the evacuation in 2021. You mentioned that, with all things considered, we worked with our allies very efficiently, although we did not have quite the same type of presence on the ground as some of our allies.
Could you please speak about the operation and the threats to our personnel and assets on the ground and how the armed forces were able to move efficiently, with all things considered?
Most definitely, and thank you for the words at the opening of your question.
Canada had no military assets on the ground at the outset, nor did it have access to a secure alternative site on the military side of the airport in Kabul, as other NATO allies did. That has to be remembered.
The effective operation of our personnel comes down to their professionalism. It comes down to their expertise. It comes down to the high level of preparation that they were able to exhibit through exercises, through training, through the rigorous planning that goes into an operation like this one.
Moreover, I would say this speaks to the strength of our alliance and the strong level of coordination among NATO allies writ large. We train with our allies regularly. We have personnel embedded with our allies, and they have personnel embedded with the Canadian Armed Forces. All of this means that the Canadian Armed Forces not only can operate effectively as a team, but they can also operate in a highly coordinated manner with our NATO allies in the most strenuous and the most dangerous of circumstances.
I will ask the chief of the defence staff if he would like to speak to the particularities of this effort with our allies.
Madam Chair, I would just add one point, and that's the importance of the global network of exchange positions—liaison positions—we have that greatly facilitated this operation.
Let me give you a few examples. First, the U.S. headquarters that was overseeing this was its central command. We had a general officer who was the deputy director of operations in the headquarters—great access. In the Middle East, in the coalition air operations centre, we had a general officer who was one of the senior members in that position. General Prévost here actually did that position several years ago. He can speak to details about the coordination of the airflow that was so important.
Our joint task force impact is located in Kuwait. Having the base in Kuwait provided us a footprint on the ground, a place to be able to move Afghan refugees into. Knowing the size of that camp, it was busting at the seams when we moved way more Afghans in there than it had capacity for.
The relationships that we have with various allies, with conventional and special operations forces, greatly facilitated the work on the ground. Personal relationships matter. They take away a lot of friction that is otherwise inherent in coalition operations.
That, Madam Chair, from my perspective, is one of the very important lessons that we take away from this and that needs to be sustained.
We were told that there were many discussions between the various departments.
In December 2021, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2615, which called on the countries involved to amend their criminal codes to allow humanitarian organizations to do their work. Yes, despite their good understanding of the situation on the ground, Canadian NGOs were unable to do their work due to Canada's Criminal Code. After that resolution was adopted, the government took 15 months to come up with a solution. It's 82 pages long. The solution has been there all along if it's there today. And yet, the government is unable to tell us why it took so long.
The Bloc Québécois will support the bill. We will try to improve it quickly so that it can be passed quickly as well.
However, can anyone in the government explain to me why it took so long, when the solution was there from the start, because nothing about the situation has changed since then?
According to an ATIP response, between August 2021 and June 2022, 9,512 DND applications were received. On that basis, what we just heard is that 4,498 files have now been processed. That's about half of the applications that have been received or confirmed by DND. We are now reaching that 18,000 number. We're nearing the end of them. That means there's no more room to add more people, when half of the files have not yet been processed.
On this basis, we understand that these individuals are people who served Canada, who put their lives at risk, who put their loved ones' lives at risk and who are now being hunted down. Does it make sense to the minister that the government has put in place this arbitrary cap of 18,000?
Where did this 18,000 cap come from, and does that reflect the actual number of people who served Canada?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to pick up where I left off. We're talking about the most vulnerable and targeted Afghans who were left behind—those who served with the Canadian Armed Forces. They empowered us. They enabled us. They kept us safe. They worked with our provincial reconstruction teams, and they were more than just local contractors. They became part of the family, and our veterans and those who are currently serving care deeply about them.
We know that you're coming up on the 18,000 limit. We know that the goal is to get to 40,000, and there are a lot of Afghans easily reached as refugees who are already out of harm's way. I think what Canadians want to know, what members of the armed forces want to know and what our veterans who served alongside them—many of whom are suffering greatly because they're still in contact with them—want to know is when we are going to invite the rest of those who have been vetted and accepted to join us here in Canada.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I have the privilege of actually having the last five minutes, so I will take them to say thank you, Minister, for being here. However, I would also like to recognize and thank the men and women who served during the Afghanistan war.
I also want to recognize all the hard work that was presented to everyone who was involved during the extraction, and I certainly want to say thank you for the work you do every single day to protect our great nation. I want to make sure of that.
I know, Minister, I'm speaking a bit on the right side from my view here, but thank you for everything you are all doing.
We went through many questions. Maybe, Minister, you could share with us the next phase, where we're at and maybe explain to this committee, as we move forward, more about the importance of those recommendations and why we're having this conversation today, but also what's next. What I hear is a great desire to continue to contribute.
Thank you for your question. It is very important that it be answered.
First, I'd like to say that there have been lessons learned for everyone. I want to know how your committee feels about the recommendations.
On recommendation 1, of course, we always want to learn from the past and apply greater knowledge to future crises, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to every crisis. The Canadian Armed Forces conduct lessons learned exercises after every operation, whether it's Ukraine, Haiti, Afghanistan, etc., and there is no exception here. With the work your committee is doing, it's extremely important for us to also take that into account. I will be encouraging my department and the Canadian Armed Forces to make sure that we are hearing the words in your report.
On recommendation 2, whole of government co-operation is what we do. We are always working together across departments, whether it is hurricane Fiona here in Canada, or whether it is an international operation, including Operation Aegis.
Finally, as I've said a number of times, on bringing Afghans to safety, recommendation 18, we will continue to work and support IRCC in reaching the 40,000 number. This work is difficult. It's ongoing but, again, I look forward to the words of your committee.
It's important for us to listen so we know what we can do now and what we can do in the future.
Thank you, Minister and Madam Chair.
Maybe I'll just add some context in conclusion.
I think the fall of Afghanistan, indeed our own involvement in Afghanistan and then the subsequent fall seven years after we left, just shows how dangerous the world is becoming. Between what we see the Taliban doing and what we see the Russians doing in Ukraine, we can see that civilization is just a thin veneer that is very easily ripped off.
Your Canadian Armed Forces have been involved around the world in many places, and the world is only getting much more dangerous. We have to be ready, and we have to learn and pull from the lessons, because we'll be using them in the future.
Your Canadian Armed Forces needs to be ready. As our elected parliamentarians, I would ask all of you to go to your constituents and convince them to join our ranks, because this is a great institution. It's filled with great people. They're here to serve you and the people of Canada.
A voice: Hear, hear!
I might just add, Madam Chair, that when we talk about intergovernmental co-operation, we should remember that military capabilities are only one tool in the overall tool box. We need to continue to build on the experience with our governmental counterparts in different departments, which is exactly what we're doing.
In terms of Canadian Armed Forces lessons learned, these include non-combatant evacuation operations. In March 2023, the Canadian Armed Forces is participating in an exercise called Noah's ark, in Israel, to practice interoperability among allies and partners for the conduct of a NEO in this region.
I'll just say that speaks to the fact that the lessons learned continue for the Canadian Armed Forces. Having said that, as I said, the lessons learned from this committee are also very important.