Madam Speaker, I begin by congratulating the member for on once again being the official opposition's critic and also the critic of the Bloc Québécois and the critic of the New Democrats.
I begin today's discussion with two people in mind. The first is Wahida, a young Afghan girl who was nine years old when she was sponsored by the church at which I was the minister in 2001 to come with her uncle from Afghanistan. Over the last 20 years, Wahida has found a way in Canada, shared stories and allowed Canadians to continue to be part of her life in a country that has been torn and wracked by war, civil dispute and international conflict over the last many decades.
I call her to mind, because each time we talk about Afghanistan, it is important to remember the people of Afghanistan whose aspirations, hopes and dreams have been shattered again and again. I believe every single member of this House has their best interests in mind.
Another woman who is in my mind today is Adeena Niazi. She is the executive director of the Afghan Women's Organization, an organization in Toronto that works extensively in my riding of Don Valley West, assisting refugee claimants and immigrants who come from Afghanistan and are making an important contribution to Canada every day. She reminds me, through the stories of the people she works with, of the families left behind, of the terror and real chaos in Afghanistan, and of the importance for Canada to maintain, build and create new ways of helping the people of Afghanistan. We, on this side of the House, stand firmly in support of the people of Afghanistan, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Over the summer we witnessed the tremendous chaos, difficulties and desperation of Afghan people as their government fell and as the Taliban took over key aspects of safety and security, including the Kabul airport. I watched as people scrambled to try to get to Canada and to other places around the world in safety.
There are important questions about that period of time. We acknowledge that those questions are important to be asked. We need to look at every aspect of the situation in the fall of Afghanistan, and of Kabul particularly, and the role of Canada and its allies. There are important questions I believe the opposition has every right to ask. Those questions are being asked by members of Parliament on both sides of this House.
Whether they are about the humanitarian assistance Canada needs to provide now and in the future; the military operations, which for Canada ended some 10 years ago, but we have continued to be present in Afghanistan in humanitarian and development ways; or about the tremendous work of our public servants during a very difficult time this summer, I think we want those questions answered. It is fair for Parliament to request those answers on behalf of Canadians and have them, in a reasoned and thoughtful way, be examined by parliamentarians.
Where we may disagree is where, when and how that should happen.
I want to speak about the role of our standing committees. All through the motion today the Standing Orders are mentioned. We have a foreign affairs committee. That committee will be struck shortly. It is part of the standing committee structure of this House. It is charged with engaging, and it can work with other committees such as the defence committee, the citizenship and immigration committee and other committees that are implicated in this topic.
We want to be mindful of the best use of our resources. We had a special committee on China that was an important aspect of our last Parliament. That may come back this time. We want to make sure that we are using our time effectively.
People often talk about the role of a member of Parliament and how stretched we are, and some people think it is because of our operating budget. I never feel stretched because of my member's operating budget. The scarce resource that all of us have is time.
All of us have this scarce resource, which is how much time we are able to put into every topic, but that does not mean that the topic of Afghanistan is not critically important for every one of us. However, let us find a way to do it that makes sure we do it well, carefully, and using the resources we have as individuals and of the House, which are important.
We will be asking important questions. We will be asking what actually happened last July and August. We will also ask who knew what, when and where, which are important questions to ask. Also, unlike the , I will not denigrate the public servants of this country.
I will not denigrate the tremendous work of our mission in Afghanistan or our armed forces, who jumped in to help with our allies and colleagues from NATO partner countries. They worked carefully and quickly with commercial airlines, as well as with operatives from Public Safety, the RCMP, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to find ways to have special measures to help not only Canadians who were in Afghanistan, but also Afghans who were at risk, which included women, human rights defenders, advocates, lawyers and NGO partners in Afghanistan. Canadians worked with Afghan interpreters, security agents and the people who kept us safe some 10 years ago. They had worked with us right up until the former prime minister withdrew Canadian troops some 10 years ago. This left us in a very different position than we might have been in if that had not happened.
Afghanistan is a place of conflict. It is a place that has continually had internal difficulties and external forces, and I think we should hear about that. We should listen to the stories of our partners and allies to find out what happened, when it happened and what actions were actually taken, so we could actually dispel some of the misunderstandings, and I will not say “mistruths”, being held by the official opposition.
I do not blame the Conservatives for not understanding or for not having heard what happened. They were busy on a campaign, as we were. They were busy fighting government-sponsored refugees, for instance. Now they are calling upon us to help. They were extremely busy tearing down the structures and systems that we need to have at play to make sure Afghanistan is helped by Canada.
I will be very clear. I have never been shy about criticizing my own government, which is one of the roles of a backbencher. We do that work, but in this case, I want to commend the government. I particularly want to commend the public servants who worked day and night, seven days a week, through a very difficult time as a country was folding in on itself.
Of course, there were contingency plans. We have contingency plans for evacuation for every country, which is the way that Global Affairs Canada works. Of course, on the ground, we have a small mission in Kabul that was at the ready to work with our partners, but nobody, frankly, could have predicted the rapidity of the chaos that ensued following the American troop withdrawal. Nobody could have predicted that.
I think we need a committee to discuss, and I would argue the foreign affairs committee could do this, what lessons we learned. Were there mistakes made? Could we do it better? Those are absolutely fair, good and reasonable questions, because everyone in this House wants to make sure we have the ability in this country, as a trusted ally, to make a difference in the world.
During those several weeks of chaos, my office, like many members' offices, was inundated with calls from people. I represent Don Valley West, and that riding has one of the largest populations of Afghan Canadians, as well as newcomers who are not yet citizens. My office was inundated with calls from family members fearful about those who were trying to reach safety, or trying to reach them to have a conversation.
We want to know what systems were put in place, and I understand that. Each one of us was frustrated as a member of Parliament, and it is fair to be frustrated.
We also have to recognize that public servants are human beings. They are doing the best they can. The structures are in place to help them. We want to learn from them and hear what they did, without jumping to the conclusion that “nothing”, and I quote the , was done. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and it is simply irresponsible for an opposition leader to claim that.
Was enough done? Perhaps it was not. Could it have been done better? Absolutely, as everything can always be done better. It is not fair to denigrate our public servants and Canadian armed services, whether they are public safety officers, immigration officers or some of the 200 Global Affairs staff who were mobilized to help the small contingent at the mission that existed in Afghanistan at the time.
We have helped the Afghan people in the past, and we will continue to help them. It is one of the prime places we send humanitarian aid. Right now, there is no way we will be recognizing the Taliban. It is a terrorist organization in Canada, but it is nonetheless the de facto government.
We are finding ways to work around them, but it is still difficult. The situation on the ground is still tenuous. We have to be absolutely careful about the safety and security of Canadian personnel there, and we have to work in conjunction with our NATO allies, who continued to have forces on the ground after we left them behind.
We will continue to build bridges, such as consular affairs. We will also be making sure that we continue to help the 1,400 people who have already been evacuated who were Canadian citizens, permanent residents of Canada or their family members. Around 1,400 have come back.
We still have files open. Some of them are hard to connect with. Some of them have left Afghanistan. Some of them have gone to Pakistan and other countries. We are still in conversation with them and trying to help them. We are also guaranteeing to commit to our plan to bring at least 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan into Canada.
Obviously, there are millions of refugees who have already left Afghanistan and are in places outside of Afghanistan. There are also people at risk inside Afghanistan. This includes women and girls, and LGBTQI people, who are at risk. I am getting constant communications from them. We have to find ways through civil society groups and third-party countries to get them into Canada or other safe countries. We do not need to have a monopoly on goodness in this country. We need to work with other countries that share our values and want to make sure that Afghan people are safe.
We will call upon the Taliban. We will call upon them to live up to their stated concerns about the well-being of the people of Afghanistan. We will also call them to follow the international rules-based order and the expectations of the international community in the exercise of their power. We are not going to negotiate with them. We will demand that they do that.
Meanwhile, we are going to continue to work to make sure that we find a way to help the most vulnerable people. That is our goal. We have been in Afghanistan before. Previous governments have committed. This government continues to commit and recommit to the people of Afghanistan because, as the did say, we have a stake in this. We have CAF members who have given their lives for Afghanistan, and we have aid workers and veterans who have come home and who care deeply.
We are absolutely there, but we are not there just because of that. We are there because that is what Canada does and that is what Canadians want us to do. They want us to continue to be a beacon of light and hope in the world. We will continue to find ways to get humanitarian assistance there. We will continue to find ways to reignite our development projects. We will continue to find ways to support women and girls, and democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, in a very complicated and difficult situation.
As I said, I do respect the will of this House to get answers to those questions appropriately, but we will also safeguard the information that will be released by government. No reasonable or responsible government will ever put at risk military strategic plans. We will never put individuals at risk, through their names or identities, and we will never even put at risk the reputations of the people who are attempting to do their very best. They have sworn an oath to Her Majesty and to the people of Canada to publicly serve to the best of their abilities.
We are in this together, and I do not believe anyone has ever been elected to opposition. I do not believe that. It is the reality that, after an election, some people find themselves in opposition and others find themselves in government. I have been in opposition. My hope is that the opposition will always find ways to constructively help Canada and the Canadian government make a difference and make positive contributions. Anyone can criticize. Anyone can cut down, but to build up takes more. That is what I would call upon the opposition to do today, to find a constructive and creative way.
I have been in contact with members in the third and fourth parties, and I believe there is a way we can do this. There is a way that we can bring this information to the foreign affairs committee to make sure we exploit, in the best sense of the word, what a standing committee is for. The Standing Orders are there to protect the rights of every member of the committee, both opposition and government sides, to further the work. We are open to a very early study on Afghanistan. We are very open to finding a way to work together on this, to be creative, to find answers and to ensure that our number one goal is not to have gotcha moments or to one up each other, but to actually create an environment where we can have a discussion.
I have been incredibly impressed with the member for and her passionate and compassionate approach on humanitarian assistance. I congratulate her on her new role in foreign affairs more broadly and generally because, to me, we are involved in foreign affairs in all of our ways of ensuring that we are finding a way to make our world better. That is why we create differences.
No world was ever made better by dropping a bomb. It is made better by giving people hope. We give people hope by making sure they are fed, have democratic rights, and can contribute to the best of their ability to find a way to make a difference for their families and in their lives. We do not do that perfectly. No government in Canada has ever done that perfectly. We can be better, and will continue to work on it.
I greatly appreciate the work done by the member for . He is always extremely sensitive and compassionate. He stands up for the interests of all Canadians and Quebeckers wanting to create a safe, prosperous and equitable world, where everyone can live with dignity.
We can work together on this, and that is what I would like to take from this. I am not casting aspersions on the official opposition. I hope opposition members want to work with us as well to find a way through these tricky situations and to not overtax our committee members or public servants. I would sooner they spend more time on humanitarian assistance, creating pathways of communication and dialogue, and working with our allies around the world, than in producing documents that will simply not be helpful to us.
I want to find a way to be resourceful, constructive and dignified. I am looking forward to the House—
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from , who will give a superb speech that I will be most pleased to listen to.
First, I would like to highlight what I believe to be some strong points in the motion presented today by the Conservative Party. As the saying goes, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and the motion has some worthwhile elements.
I am thinking in particular of the reason why they are asking that a special committee be created. My colleague, the parliamentary secretary, mentioned that he hoped the study would be conducted by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. However, this matter touches on international relations, defence and immigration, a combination of areas that we do not see all that often.
In addition, one of the advantages of creating a special committee is that it frees up the schedules of the standing committees, which, as one might expect, will have a lot on their plate in the coming year and will be very busy. I am thinking in particular of the standing committees on foreign affairs and international development, national defence and citizenship and immigration. The study the motion proposes is extensive and could take several months. Tasking a standing committee with this study would likely prevent that committee from focusing on other equally important issues.
Finally, there is a need to restore the Canadian Armed Forces' image, a significant issue that I will carry forward and address over the next year. A number of military members have taken it upon themselves to help the local interpreters they worked with in Afghanistan. They have provided private funding to set up houses to keep people safe. If nothing is done and we send the message that some individuals could be left behind, we risk undermining not only the alliances we may want to make with international partners on future missions, but also the Canadian Armed Forces' internal recruitment.
For all these reasons, I think it is appropriate to ask the question and to study what went wrong and why allies who had worked with Canada were not evacuated.
The wording of the Conservatives' motion raises the issue of calling an election in the midst of the Afghan crisis. It is very interesting and relevant, but is this really the right place to raise the issue? I am not sure. However, if we were to go down this road, I daresay it might be interesting to see how we could put limits on a government's power to unilaterally call an election without being brought down by the House. I doubt that the Liberals and Conservatives would want to discuss this in the context of the motion we are debating, but I still think it is worth raising this possibility.
What bothers me about this motion is that the Conservatives seem to have written it more to make the government look bad than to really find immediate and future solutions. I will give an example.
Paragraph (m)(v) of the motion calls for an enormous quantity of documents to be produced within one month of the creation of the special committee, which is likely to be voted on tomorrow. One month from now will be January 7. Between now and then, there are about seven or eight sitting days left in the House, people and staff will be on vacation, and they may still be on January 7. On that date, it would be very easy for the Conservatives to say that the government has once again disobeyed an order of the House by not producing the documents requested by the deadline. That deadline, however, is absolutely impossible to meet, so the objective will not be met.
Accordingly, I think that we could be a little more flexible, for example by allowing the committee to decide for itself which documents it wants to obtain and the timeline for producing them. These choices can change depending on what happens in committee and what the committee needs in order to plan or amend its decisions.
Another aspect of the motion that bothers me is the fact that it is only retroactive in scope. While the talked more about the need for recommendations for the future, it seems to me that it is more about picking at scabs than anything else. Just between us, I do not think that we need a special committee to see that things were botched.
We have only to ask the members who had all their immigration cases put on hold this summer because of the lack of capacity to deal with Afghan refugee applications. The system was not even close to being ready; cases in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration were already moving slowly, and this just added to it. Afghan refugees do not need a special committee to tell them that things were botched. We only have to ask the 200 Afghans whose names were leaked to the media by IRCC, which put their lives at risk. They do not need a special committee to tell them that things were botched. We only have to ask the 40,000 minus 3,700 Afghans who are still there. Let us ask them if they need a special committee to tell them that things were botched.
With that in mind, there is no point to creating a committee whose sole purpose is to analyze the past. It is somewhat akin to the work of a coroner who is asked to determine the cause and circumstances of a death. Their work would not be that important if it simply involved telling us why and how a person died. The coroner’s real job is to make recommendations to prevent it from happening again. That is what I would like to see from the committee that is to be set up.
If worst comes to worst, an amendment could be introduced to that effect. If the special committee's sole purpose is to provide feedback, it becomes less useful. I would prefer to have it look at other issues, such as what to do with the people who are still in Afghanistan. There could be millions of them, and they could starve to death in one of the worst famines in human history. How can we get international aid to these people in the immediate future?
The committee might consider what kind of diplomatic ties we should have with the Taliban government. Although it is the de facto government, it is not a recognized government, since the Taliban are considered a terrorist organization. Still, we will need to figure out how to deal with them to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid.
It is also important to look at government funding. Since the Taliban have been recognized by several countries as a terrorist organization, aid is often frozen. International donors are more fearful, so the money that the government relies on to keep running is not coming in.
Under the circumstances, we do not really seem to be grasping this sense of urgency and the need for action right now. Those are not secondary issues; they should be a key focus for the special committee. I think that is what the Conservatives' motion is lacking. I would not be comfortable supporting the motion as written. It is basically smoke and mirrors. Really, it is mud-slinging, and it is not constructive.
When I read the motion as it stands, I worry that it will not help anyone other than maybe the Conservatives. Passing this motion will not get any more Afghans out of Afghanistan. It will not get any humanitarian aid into the country. This motion will not do anything to improve diplomatic relations insofar as that is possible.
I think there is room for improvement. The Bloc, as always, wants a partner it can talk to and work with constructively. We are reaching out to our Conservative colleagues, not for their good, not for the good of the government and not for our own good, but for the good of those who need it most right now.
Madam Speaker, I will try to measure up to my very dear colleague from .
Some things are important in politics, but sometimes, in the House, we lose sight of what is important. To begin with, I would like to point out two things we need to bear in mind throughout this debate.
First, throughout all our discussions, we must remember that more than one million children could die from malnutrition in Afghanistan this winter. I am not making this up; representatives of the United Nations World Food Programme have said so.
Second, we must remember that we have a duty of solidarity toward the Afghan people, which means we have an obligation to get results. I often tell my children that they should always finish what they start. In the case of Afghanistan, that means that we need to follow through on our commitment to keep those who worked with us on the ground during this difficult war safe. Interpreters and their families put their lives at risk at the time and are still suffering for having helped us. We must therefore do everything we can to help them and repatriate them.
With that in mind, we need to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is useful in the grand scheme of things. I agree that we need to identify the stumbling blocks and mistakes in the government's efforts to repatriate our Afghan allies. I also agree that we need to make sure we never again witness such chaos in a future military conflict and that we learn from this mess.
However, I do not agree that we should embark on a mission to nose out scandals that will last until the next election. I also do not agree that we should start combing through redacted material so that we can interpret fragments of confidential information in the hope of finding a comma out of place.
Every member here knows that this is a complex situation, especially the Conservatives. They did not do much for our interpreters either in 2014.
Like the Conservatives, I condemn the government's inaction last August, and I would like to remind the Liberals that they called an election at a time when people were so desperate to flee the Taliban that they were clinging to moving planes. I also think that we are seeing some professional improvisation in the management of the repatriation, which is an operation that the Minister of Public Safety will undoubtedly leave off his CV. Like my Conservative colleagues, I get some incredibly tragic files in my riding office.
Despite all this, if the motion of the hon. member for and leader of the official opposition is intended only to embarrass the government and not to review the events constructively, I do not see how the Bloc can support it. Unfortunately, when I read the motion, I get the feeling that the hon. member for Durham is playing politics rather than trying to resolve the issue. He is more concerned with scoring points off the Liberals than scoring points for the interpreters and their families.
I will give a few compelling examples to support my arguments, and I will explain the conditions under which I might consider supporting the motion. Since my dear colleague from already went over those conditions in detail, I may be repeating some of what she said.
First, in paragraph (l), the committee is being instructed to present a final report within six months of the adoption of the motion. The current motion makes it seem that the Conservatives absolutely want this to fail. Six months is great, but, under paragraph (m), the documentation has to be produced within one month.
I know what is going to happen: The Liberals will not be prepared to answer our questions and will be filibustering. That is how things will go at every meeting. The Conservatives are well aware of this, since there is a measure in paragraph (n) of the motion to prevent the Liberals from filibustering. However, there will be four hours of discussion before the mandatory vote and that means that, for four hours, members will be able to filibuster.
The Conservatives know that the Liberal Party will never waive its parliamentary privilege. This says a lot about both parties, but it says even more about the motion, which seems virtuous at first glance, but appears to be intended solely to embarrass the Liberals. In fact, the strategy is to trip up the Liberals, not to conduct a real review of their management of the crisis, which, incidentally, is still ongoing.
To get back to the timetable, the period during which the process would start also poses a problem. First, the Conservatives know that the holidays are approaching, that Parliament is going to wind down, that parliamentary and government public servants will not be available and that all this will undermine the redaction provided for in paragraph (n). This single step will take months, or it will monopolize every staff member in the departments involved.
Second, getting back to what I was saying about the crisis, the public servants they want to call to testify or monopolize for redactions are currently trying to repatriate the Afghans in question.
If someone in the House wants to tell me that there are currently no delays at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, either they do not work on immigration files, or they are Liberal. The department has been struggling with staggering and inhumane delays for years now, and the situation has only gotten worse since August, because it is working almost full time on repatriation cases.
I said earlier that we need to keep two things in mind throughout the debate, namely that children will die if things do not change, and that we have a duty toward our allies.
Will putting more pressure on our public servants improve the situation? No. Will politicizing the crisis right now improve the situation? No. Do the Conservatives want to create a committee to further their partisan interests rather than help the Afghans? That is a fair question. Moreover, it is entirely reasonable to ask why the Conservatives want to create a committee on Afghanistan, but do not want to extend the mandate of the special committee on Canada-China relations. We still do not understand why that is, but it is obvious that the Conservatives see special committees as an essentially political tool.
Would it not be more appropriate to examine the actions Canada could take?
Let us change the motion together now, to ensure that the main purpose of the review shifts from the past to the present and the immediate future, with a view to providing humanitarian aid and evacuating vulnerable Afghans. The Bloc Québécois has a lot of ideas, and that is why we are here. We want to work together with every party in the House.
Let us look at the humanitarian situation and the assistance Canada should be providing, given that millions of Afghans risk dying of hunger in the coming months. This is one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet. That is what we need to do to help.
Let us consider diplomatic ties, as my colleague from mentioned. Should Canada forge diplomatic ties with the Taliban government? Yes. How can the government communicate with the Taliban if it does not recognize them? We can look at that.
We can also look closely at the government’s goals. I am the immigration critic for the Bloc Québécois. The government promised to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, and then 40,000. So far, we have taken in 4,000 out of those 40,000. That raises questions.
Yes, we agree with the idea of a special committee, but let us change the wording of the motion so that its purpose is not necessarily political and partisan but aligns with the real objective that such a committee would have, namely to help those people who are stuck in Afghanistan. Right now, in Afghanistan, parents are selling their daughters for food, and people are hiding in safe houses to avoid being killed. It is that simple, and it is tragic.
What do we do with these people? These are all questions that do not appear anywhere in the Conservative motion. We talk a lot about immigration, but this is also a matter of international co-operation and human rights. What do we do about the NGOs, which are reluctant to help the Afghan people because the current Taliban government is considered a terrorist organization? What do we do with the information circulating about human trafficking to meet the needs for food as I just mentioned?
Let us not forget the elephant in the room, the veterans’ groups that are financing safe houses to protect Afghans and their families with what little they have, without any help from the federal government. We have all seen their requests for help in our riding offices. What is the government doing about those issues?
I am repeating myself, but that is okay. Let us not forget that one million children in Afghanistan could die of starvation. Let us not forget that we have a duty to the Afghan people, a duty to fulfill our commitment to their security.
Let us find a way to do that and focus on what really matters for our allies. Let us study the situation in Afghanistan. Let us make it our first order of business to evaluate the humanitarian aid that Canada should be providing to bring relief to the Afghan people. Let us be smart and realistic in how we proceed. If a special committee is formed, let us give its members and the officials who will be assigned to support them the flexibility and time they need to do their job, given the scope of work involved.
Above all, let us ask ourselves why we were elected. Let us take responsibility and work together.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
This is my very first speech, so I hope you will humour me, Mr. Speaker, as I thank my constituents for once again allowing me the great privilege of standing in this place to represent them. I will tell members a bit about Edmonton Strathcona before I undertake my speech.
Edmonton Strathcona is an incredible, amazing community. We are a community of artists and musicians; a community of small business owners, teachers, professors, students and workers. We have incredible events like the Fringe; the Folk Music Festival; the Strathearn Art Walk; and the Canoë Volant, which is an opportunity to ride a canoe down a ski hill. We have the French district with Campus Saint-Jean and La Cité Francophone, the University of Alberta. Being able to represent Edmonton Strathcona really is the deepest honour of my life, and I want to thank everyone who elected me. I want to thank the volunteers who helped me to come back to this place.
I want to finish by thanking my husband and my children. We all stand in this place. We work long hours. We know that often our private life is sacrificed because of the work that we do for the public good. My husband Duncan and my two beautiful children inspire me. I am so grateful for their love and support. I thank them so much.
Today, I rise to speak to the opposition motion calling for a special committee to examine and review the events related to the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August of this year. My overarching message that I want to give to every single person in this House is one of urgency. Every parliamentarian in this House needs to understand that what we are dealing with in Afghanistan, what we are seeing in Afghanistan right now, is not one crisis and not two crises; it is three crises that are happening at the same time and they will require urgent action from the Canadian government and from governments around the world.
I come from a background of international development. I have spent over 25 years working in international development and sustainable development around the world. I have worked with people who have led the way working in Afghanistan to raise women and girls in Afghanistan. I am so proud of the work that our sector, the Canadian CSOs, have done, including Janice Eisenhauer and Lauryn Oates from Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. We have seen incredible work out of Islamic Relief Canada, Care Canada and World Vision. These organizations have been working on the ground for so long to support the Afghan people. I am so proud that I have been able to support them in my role.
I have to say how devastating it was in August to watch what was happening on the ground, to watch the despair and the pain in Afghanistan. The thing that I felt most shocked about was that we knew this was coming. The runway for this was very long. For years, New Democrats have been calling on Conservative and Liberal governments to do more, to act faster, to invest more in the Afghan people. For years, members of the religious minorities in Afghanistan have been saying that they are at risk, that their very lives are at risk and that if they are not supported to flee Afghanistan, they would die.
Even just in February 2021, I wrote to the minister and explained that we were watching the failure of a peace process and we were watching women be silenced in Afghanistan. That is exactly what happened. We wrote to the minister and said that when the U.S. left Afghanistan, as we knew it would because the Americans had told us they would, what would happen would be chaos. It was chaos. We saw this coming. We knew it was going to happen and then when it happened, instead of being ready, instead of having a plan, instead of doing the work we needed to do, we left those people behind.
We should be ashamed of ourselves. The government should be ashamed of itself.
We also know that we need to think of a way forward. We cannot turn the clock back on the failures of the government. We cannot go back in time, so have to look at going forward. We have to look at what to do about these three crises right now.
First, there is the humanitarian crisis; 23 million Afghans, more than half of the population, are at risk of starvation this winter. The situation in Afghanistan is dire, with the economy on the verge of collapse, food shortages and a crumbling health care system. The latest United Nations' humanitarian response flash appeal is currently deeply underfunded, with only 20% of the required assistance committed.
The Government of Canada simply has to do more to help the people of Afghanistan, who are facing these food crises. We must commit to more humanitarian aid and we must work with the multilateral and civil society organizations to ensure that the aid can get to those Afghans who need it the most. This is complicated. This will be very difficult to do, but we have to do this work. We know that antiterrorism legislation makes it extremely hard for CSOs and multilateral organizations to work in Afghanistan, but the government needs to be clear. It needs to make very clear declarations on what CSOs can do, how they can do it and how they will be protected to do the work.
The government will have to look at opportunities to get health care to Afghans. While we do not, in any way, want to recognize any legitimacy of the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, we may need to find ways to get health care, food and essential services to those in Afghanistan who need the help the most. We need a clear plan. We need the government to take leadership. We need the government to meet with CSOs and folks who are on the ground who know the situation, who can get us through and get the help to those people in Afghanistan right now.
The second crisis is immigration. My colleague from will be speaking about the immigration crisis, but the government keeps promising things, like 40,000 refugees will be coming to Canada, knowing very well that it has no ability to do that right now. What the Liberals are not telling Canadians is that the majority of those refugees are not coming from Afghanistan. We are asking people in a country with a collapsing economy to get out of Afghanistan before they can come to Canada. We can do better.
Finally, the third crisis is the international development crisis. This is not something I will just put on the current government. This belongs on the governments of Stephen Harper as well as the governments of the current . Our failure to invest in the people of Afghanistan and to stay with them is something we have seen in our international development file for a very long time. We are at the lowest level we have ever been in the history of our country.
Over the last 10 years, we have failed to invest in people or in international development. What we see is a country like Afghanistan, where the people are unable to survive without support, and our failure to protect them over years has caused this. Our failure to invest in them and work with our allies has caused this.
Therefore, I call on the government to recognize that we have a humanitarian crisis, an immigration and refugee crisis and an international development crisis unfolding in Afghanistan right now. Could we all please work together to find solutions to these three crises to protect the people of Afghanistan?
Mr. Speaker, given this is my first full speech in the House, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people of Vancouver East for sending me back here, to bring their voices to the House of Commons. I often look at this place as this place of the people and it is absolutely essential for us to do our jobs and bring our constituents' voices here, represent their needs and drive change. What I have done throughout my entire political life is to really stand by the community and fight for change that matters in their everyday experiences.
I also want to take a moment to thank the campaign team members. Without them, I would not be here. I often say that I am not here because of me; I am here because of the amazing people who work with me, support me and lift me up to do this work.
Finally, I come to this place always with these words in mind from the late lieutenant-governor David Lam. He said to me many years ago that it was not the title that brought one honour but rather what one did to honour the title. These are the words I live by every day in the House.
I requested an emergency debate on Afghanistan on the second day the House resumed after the election. It was my first opportunity to raise the issue, and I was so disappointed the Speaker ruled against it.
Now we have this motion before us, and the Afghanistan issue is absolutely a crisis to which Canada needs to put its mind. The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking and it did not have to be this way.
For decades, after risking their lives to help the Canadian Armed Forces, many Afghan interpreters, other collaborators and their extended families were left in the highly precarious situation, being targeted by the Taliban.
I was astounded, to be honest, when the former minister of immigration's, now the , initial response to help them get to safety was that they could use the existing immigration measures. That was his suggestion. This delay in action prolonged the threats and further endangered lives. Let us be honest about that and let us own that reality. Canada owes them a debt of gratitude and every effort must be made to bring them to safety swiftly.
With the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Canadian Afghan families are absolutely desperate to bring their loved ones here. I do not believe a day goes by where I do not receive a message from a family member across the country, or even outside of Canada, asking for help.
In fact, as recently as just this week, I received a message from an Afghan interpreter who received support from the United States and landed there, but whose family members were left behind. Afghan interpreters also helped the Canadian military. Now, even with the government's new Afghan measure it recently announced, they are precluded from being able to bring their family members here because they have to be in Canada in order to exercise that measure.
There is something really wrong with our approach to this entire situation. Time and again, the Canadian government, the Liberal government, has shown that it is not there for the people who helped us when we needed them the most.
According to the government’s own website, “Canada and its allies have received assurances from the Taliban that Afghan citizens with travel authorization from other countries will be allowed to leave Afghanistan.” Canada must not squander this small window of opportunity given the dire situation in Afghanistan. The NDP is therefore calling on the government to bring in an emergency immigration measure of utilizing temporary residence permits to help Afghans get to safety.
There is no question that the granting of TRPs should be made with temporary travel documents to all Afghans and their extended family members who have supported the Canadian military, to those who are advocates, fighting for human rights, and to women and girls in particular, who are in such dangerous situations. I know of judges and lawyers who have also been left behind. They are asking for help and urging the Canadian government to come to the forefront.
I am calling on the government to expand the same support to human rights activists in Afghanistan and Afghans with family members in Canada, especially those with family reunification applications still awaiting processing.
I have a constituent who fled Afghanistan and came to Canada as a refugee three years ago. The minute he was able to, he submitted a family reunification application to bring his wife and his children here to Canada. They have been waiting for three years, and it still has not been processed. Now this has happened. Every time I talk to him he is literally weeping, because he is so worried about his wife and his daughter. Why? It is because they are women in that country, where they cannot be alone. They cannot even go out to get groceries on their own. How do members think families like that feel, who are struggling with this problem? Special immigration measures need to recognize that women and girls need help. They cannot travel without a man accompanying them in Afghanistan right now. That is their reality.
The government needs to work with advocacy groups in Canada to identify people in Afghanistan and provide them with a TRP and travel documents so that they can get to a third country. I would say that Canada also needs to recognize that under the current environment, Afghans are inhibited from obtaining the necessary travel documents, including a valid visa.
It is essential that the Government of Canada waive the requirements for documentation at this time and immediately provide them with a TRP and the necessary travel documents. Once they are in safety here in Canada, we can then work to get the necessary paperwork in order, including family sponsorship applications or private refugee sponsorship opportunities. For all of that to work and for the government to promise that 40,000 refugees will be able to come to Canada from Afghanistan, we must also waive the refugee determination requirements.
Currently, in Turkestan, where many Afghans have fled, there is no system in place for processing Afghans who recently fled from Afghanistan, and refugee determinations are required to qualify under all of Canada’s refugee streams. The government must recognize that and rectify it. It is not something unheard of, by the way. It was done for the Syrian refugee initiative in 2015. If we could do that for refugees from Syria, we can do the same for refugees from Afghanistan. I am asking that we undertake those measures as we undertook them for the Syrian refugee initiative.
Canadians are deeply compassionate and more than willing to help those in need. Mr. Dan On is a successful entrepreneur in Vancouver. Some members may have seen the products he has on his shelves: the Dan-D Pak and all kinds of products and yummy things. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He came to Canada with literally the shirt on his back and was able to rebuild his life and become a successful entrepreneur. People from Vietnam are a model of how successful refugees can be. He has undertaken to fundraise, to support Afghan refugees all on his own and not ask for anything in return. He understands what it is like to have travelled that journey, and he wants to help.
I urge the government to take action. We can do it at committee; we can do it outside of committee; we can do it anywhere if we have the political will to make that difference. Let us save lives.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a sense of duty and honour that I stand here today in the House to support this motion to set up a committee to review Canada's actions during the evacuation of Canadian personnel and civilians and our Afghan friends and allies from Kabul; those who got out.
As a former associate minister of national defence, I want to say that my heart goes out to those 40,000 Canadians and their families who served in Afghanistan, and to our ill, our injured and, most importantly, our fallen. They made the ultimate sacrifice for Canadians so that among other victories, little girls could go to school in peace in Afghanistan and not fear having acid thrown in their faces or being married off at the age of nine. Have we forgotten the attempted murder of Malala by the Taliban in Pakistan, when she spoke up for the education of girls?
Like Canadians who served during the Afghan mission, the Afghan war, I want to say how profoundly saddened I was to watch Canada strike her colours and run from Kabul, leaving many Afghan friends and allies behind, along with their families, for the Taliban to decide their fate. The victors of Vimy, the Hundred Days, D-Day and Kapyong, had they been able, would have cried out in rightful indignation at the scenes at the airport and at Canada's final retreat. For me and many friends and colleagues, it was a week of feeling frustrated, weak and sickened by the government's half-hearted approach, which can be summed up by “last in and first out”.
To be clear, I have nothing but praise for the professionalism of the Canadian embassy staff and our Canadian Armed Forces personnel, particularly our special forces, who were left to hold the bag for the Liberal government. I only wish they would get the love and support they need from the government in terms of modern equipment, but that is not the Liberal way. It apparently is not the Liberal government's way.
As a former minister, I get to see how decisions are made behind closed doors; I have an idea of the “battle rhythm” of a crisis and the response to it. Canada's response has been slow, overly bureaucratic, risk averse and without any real political leadership to get things done. We could see the dithering at the highest levels of the Liberal government, because we were in the lead-up to an election and then into an election that the Liberals thought they had in the bag. To put it simply, the government shamefully had its eyes on a majority government at a pivotal time and could not have cared less about the national interest or the human tragedy unfolding thousands of kilometres away in Afghanistan.
Canadians have the right to know what the government did in the run-up to the fall of Kabul and what it did afterward. The peace treaty with the Taliban was signed on February 29, 2020, and later, on April 14, 2021, the Biden administration announced its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.
I will be splitting my time with the member for .
If February 29 did not ring any bells in Ottawa at the Prime Minister's Office or the Privy Council Office or Global Affairs or National Defence or Citizenship and Immigration, there can be no question that alarm bells should have been ringing on April 14, with the clear end date set for September 11.
What did the Liberal government do when the United States administration announced its planned withdrawal? Did it strike an interdepartmental committee of deputies? Did it lay out plans for an all-of-government response? Did it send a reconnaissance team to Kabul to look at the logistics of getting thousands of Canadians and their Afghan allies out of the country? Did it lean ahead and start evacuations of, say, our Afghan embassy staff and interpreters, likely the easiest to clear, and get them and their families out?
It looks like the government was like a deer caught in the headlights and did nothing. Had there been any action, the government would no doubt have stood on soapboxes across the nation to announce the news. Instead, it chose to do nothing, and this is the point. It was a choice.
The government had months to plan, marshal its resources, lean forward and carry out evacuations with the Afghan government and U.S. military still in control of the country. It did not do it. Then between May and July 2021, the Taliban started to make predictable gains on the ground in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces started to withdraw, as money dried up for pay of the Afghan army, as America withdrew the logistics consultants that kept the Afghan air force flying and the Afghan army vehicle fleets moving, the Canadian government had access to the same intelligence as our allies and could have sped up its evacuation operations then.
Did we reach out to the Pakistani government or the military and ask them for assistance? Knowing that the tide was turning on the ground, what did the Liberal government do to get our people, our friends and our allies out? Where was our logistics hub? Why was there not a search capacity in place to process visa applications? Almost a month after, on July 23, the government announced its so-called path to protection; path to protection, indeed. Almost as soon as the path to protection was announced, the government was running in the opposite direction and jettisoned the 72-hour application deadline.
Let us look at timelines. Four months after President Biden announced the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the first evacuation flight out of Kabul landed in Canada. By August 10, the Taliban controlled 65% of Afghanistan and the second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, had fallen. On August 13, Canadian officials announced a plan to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, including interpreters, activists, women leaders and members of the LGBTQ community. Two days later, Kabul fell to the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The death squads started to prowl the streets, going house to house to kill people who put their and their families' safety aside to work with Canadian diplomats, aid workers and soldiers. On August 17, two more flights got out with embassy staff and Afghan interpreters. While death squads were roaming the streets looking for our people, the said he would not give the Taliban diplomatic recognition. By August 20, Canadian officials managed to stop COVID testing and waive passports for refugees. On August 26, we witnessed two bomb blasts by suicide bombers at the airport and the Liberal government, in an election morass, pulled the plug; the evacuation ended. Our ambassador had gotten out 11 days previous.
Would it not be interesting to see the correspondence between Privy Council, Global Affairs and National Defence? Imagine what the Prime Minister's Office was saying to people about taking no unnecessary risks. All this time, innocent Afghans who took us at our word were seen falling from the landing gear of transport aircraft in desperation to leave and find safety. All the while, the Liberal government was playing for time with the media and the electorate.
Liberals said that we could stay after the Americans left, that we would get them out by land, that we would evacuate them from regional partner countries like China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan. It was all smoke and mirrors, all a great game to protect the Liberal Party of Canada and its interests over the national interests and, literally, human life.
Where are the Liberals' priorities? How many refugees did the Liberal government rescue? It was 3,600 with another 1,200 in transit. First, the target was 20,000 refugees, now it is 40,000. These are targets, not reality.
In 2006, during conflict in Lebanon, the Conservative government, with less time and warning, evacuated 15,000 Canadian citizens from that war-torn country. It acted with leadership, alacrity and dispatch; quite a contrast to the Liberal government.
As a former associate minister of national defence, I want to say that we simply cannot forget our allies in times of need. Words with no plan are useless and are costing lives. A special committee and its recommendations are absolutely necessary to streamline bureaucracy and show both compassion and agility.
Mr. Speaker, priorities.