Opposition parties and aid groups say the Trudeau government is dragging its feet in carving out exemptions to anti-terrorism laws to allow humanitarian groups to reach desperate people in Afghanistan.
“There is nothing but political will interfering with us solving this problem,” said NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson.
In June, a multi-party committee called on the government to modify the Criminal Code so that major humanitarian groups can help Afghans without being charged with assisting the Taliban.
Representatives from 10 humanitarian groups told MPs in March that Global Affairs Canada informed them they would not be able to pay a driver to deliver food or buy supplies within Afghanistan because that would incur taxes sent to the Taliban.
That would mean supporting the terrorist group, which has been listed as such under Canadian law since 2013.
Liberal MP Salma Zahid, who sat on the special parliamentary committee, said Canada must find a workaround like its allies did to ensure much-needed aid is delivered.
“I think the minister of Public Safety and as well as the minister of Justice are looking into it,” she said in an interview Thursday.
“They have to find some solutions.”
The issue was well-known last December when the UN Security Council issued an exemption to anti-terrorism sanctions on the Taliban that allowed humanitarian aid to reach Afghanistan.
By June, Australia invoked that resolution to get help to Afghanistan, while the U.S. and European Union modified their rules to ensure humanitarian groups could respond.
That same month, public servants warned Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly of challenges Canadian organizations were facing in Afghanistan before she met with former female Afghan parliamentarians.
“There is no ability to provide exemptions under current Canadian law,” reads a briefing note obtained through an access-to-information request.
“The need for mitigation measures imposes serious constraints on humanitarian and development activities that the government is able to support and the organizations with which Canada is able to partner.”
International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberals plan to modify the law, but couldn’t explain why departments that handle the Criminal Code haven’t moved.
“They’re working on options right now with the ministers of Public Safety and Justice,” Sajjan said in a Thursday interview.
The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino had no explanation for the holdup nor a timeline, and did not confirm that Ottawa actually intends to amend the current laws.
“We continue to explore new ways to support Afghans, while following Canada’s Criminal Code,” wrote spokeswoman Audrey Champoux.
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
“I, as minister of International Development, have to work within the current laws that we have,” Sajjan said.
He stressed that the government has found ways to deliver $144 million in aid to Afghans through organizations that can comply with Canada’s rules. Much of that is going to Afghans who have fled their country; the rest is largely procured by the UN thanks to the Security Council exemption.
“I just want to stress, it’s not preventing us from actually providing the funding to the Afghan people themselves,” Sajjan said.
Humanitarian groups say otherwise, arguing their hands are tied as desperation mounts.
This month a coalition of 18 groups, including as the Canadian Red Cross and Islamic Relief, decried the Liberals’ “disheartening lack of urgency in acting to remove the barriers.”
In late August, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance, and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity.
On Tuesday, the UN warned that drought, economic tumult and high oil prices will only make this worse as winter sets in.
Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan said the government must implement a solution this fall to help the millions of people who are struggling.
“Especially, I think of the women, I know how hard it is in that society to function if you don’t have a man,” she said.
The party’s foreign affairs critic noted that aid groups were raising the Criminal Code issue months before their testimony this spring.
“They’ve had a lot of time to fix the problem,” said Michael Chong, who argued the Liberals should have had legislation ready to table when the House resumed sitting this month.
“This inability to execute on something that everyone agrees upon is part of a broader pattern in this government of being unable to implement policy,” he said.
“This government struggles to put words into action.”
Instead of incompetence, McPherson chalked it up to indifference.
“There is no way that it should be taking this long for them to sort this out,” she said.
“I’ve spoken to Liberal members of Parliament who are appalled at their own government for not doing anything on this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2022.
Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News
Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.
Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.
Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.
The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.
“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.
Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.
“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”
LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS
Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.
Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.
The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.
Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.
The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.
Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.
Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.
Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.
Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.
IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.
The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.
Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.
“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.
SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES
Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles
“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.
He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.
“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.
NO DEBT RELIEF
CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.
On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”
Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.
Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.
Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.
“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”
After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.
Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries
A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.
Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.
It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.
Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.
Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog
The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.
It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.
Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.
Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.
Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.
“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.
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