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MPs were working to bring former Afghan politician to Canada before she was killed — 8 others are waiting

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Canadian politicians were working to bring Mursal Nabizada, a woman who used to serve as a Member of Parliament in Afghanistan before the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, to this country before she was killed this weekend.

The exact circumstances of Nabizada’s death are unclear, but police in Kabul said she and her bodyguard were killed by unknown gunmen, and her brother injured, all in an attack that took place at her home overnight on Saturday.

“It was devastating news and very tragic,” said Alex Ruff, the Conservative MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen-Sound, Ont., one of six Canadian MPs who have been collaborating behind the scenes since last October to fast-track immigration for Nabizada and eight other female Afghan MPs who remained in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover of the country nearly two years ago.

“We came together as an all-party group to advocate for their really urgent movement to safety and to come to Canada,” said Ruff, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan himself.

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The group also includes Green Party of Canada co-leader Elizabeth May, the Bloc Québécois’ Alexis-Brunelle Duceppe, the NDP’s Heather McPherson, and Liberals Marcus Powlowski and Leah Taylor Roy.

“We cannot lose another woman that is on that list. We cannot afford that. We have a responsibility,” said Brunelle-Duceppe. “This government is supposedly a feminist government. Well, it has to prove it.”

Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe speaks during Question Period in February 2021. He is one of six Canadian MPs urging the federal government to bring other female MPs from Afghanistan to Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Slain MP had ‘bright spark,’ activist says

Corey Levine, a human-rights activist who met Nabizada while posted in Afghanistan with the United Nations from November 2020 to June 2021, said she had a “bright spark to her.”

Levine was in Afghanistan in June 2022 as well. She said she had managed to convince the Canadian MPs of different political stripes to work together to bring Nabizada and the eight other female politicians to Canada from Afghanistan.

“Their lives had gone from being top of Afghan society as being public figures representing their constituents in Parliament to going into hiding.”

 

Women in Afghanistan facing bleak reality after latest Taliban restrictions

 

Women in Afghanistan are struggling to cope under the latest rules introduced by the Taliban government that restrict women’s freedom, including bans on attending school and even a ban on women aid workers.

She said that initially, Nabizada had wanted to stay in Afghanistan, but Levine convinced the former MP that moving to Canada was safer.

“She was ready to leave,” said Levine, who found out about Nabizada’s killing Saturday night through a group chat with the other female MPs.

“I ended up staying up all night texting with the women,” she said. “We were just trying to process the loss, what it meant for them … just trying to be there for each other.”

Government willing to work with all parties

CBC reached out to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser for an interview, but the federal government did not make him available.

In a statement issued jointly by his office and that of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Ottawa condemned Nabizada’s murder, and called for “the perpetrators of this horrific crime to be brought to justice.”

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser speaks at a news conference in Ottawa in October 2021. In a statement from his office and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Ottawa condemned Nabizada’s murder. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal government also said it will continue to do everything it can to welcome Afghans.

“This includes working with Members of Parliament from all parties to advance our nation’s efforts, and specifically, bring more women leaders to Canada,” said the statement, which was short on particulars about this group of female Afghan MPs.

But Taylor Roy, one of the two governing caucus Liberals among the Canadian Parliamentarians trying to bring the women to Canada, suggested there are a number of challenges and that it’s not a simple matter of putting the women on a plane leaving Afghanistan.

“There’s so many people applying through these [immigration] programs, and one of the problems is that these women are still in Afghanistan,” Taylor Roy said. “And of course there’s great danger in moving them to another country.”

“They have to have assurance that they have somewhere to go because we know neighbouring countries have been returning refugees back to Afghanistan. If this were to happen to any of them, obviously they would be in the hands of the Taliban.”

In late December, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News it had received word from the government of Pakistan that it would not force paperless Afghan migrants to return to Afghanistan.

The federal government has pledged to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. Since August 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says that 27,345 Afghans have arrived here under various programs.

 

Afghan-Canadian documents dismantling of women’s rights under Taliban

The Taliban-run Afghan higher education ministry says female students would not be allowed access to the country’s universities until further notice. Frozan Rahmani, an Afghan-Canadian journalist, has been documenting the dismantling of women’s rights in the country since the Taliban took control of Kabul in the summer of 2021.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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