Evidence of meeting #18 for National Defence in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was kandahar.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

It's really disturbing to hear what you're saying.

Have you had an opportunity to meet with or have any association with the Canadian Forces who are in Kandahar right now?

You find this disturbing; I find it disturbing to see it in the video presentation. I think it must also be very disturbing for the men and women we've sent to Kandahar province, if they're witnessing this kind of starvation and extreme poverty and sense of absolute despair and hopelessness that you portrayed here.

4:10 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

When we're out and about, we're running into the Canadian military. For example, the road down to Panjwai is a paved road now, because it's always been known to be a troubled area. The military plan is to have proper and easy access into troubled areas. So there's a paved road out there. We spent a lot of time going into Panjwai to try to figure out what was going on there and what the people were doing. If you drive past, there's a desert on one side and a mountain on the other. The Canadian military often sits at the base of the mountain. So we would stop—not only to make sure that they understood who we were but also just to talk to them.

These are the most junior soldiers out on the ground. I'm not talking about representatives of the army. We told them we were doing food aid. They are very young men, in their early twenties, from the Maritimes, northern Ontario, or the suburbs of Edmonton. I would tell them where I was going. I would say I was going down to a certain camp. They said it was a mixed Taliban-controlled camp. I said we were going in with food aid, and that we'd been in and out of there before. I would ask them, “Do you know what the situation is?” They said they did. They could see it from where they were. They were concerned and they said they could see how desperately poor the people were. I asked them what they thought about food aid there, and they said they would like to help, because that's how they were brought up as Canadians, but of course that's not their military mission. It's not the responsibility of the young men and women on the ground to sort that problem out. Still, they told me that they talked about it every day. They see those people every day. They're obliged to go into Afghan villages and engage any Afghan male they see. They know they can't tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. They know that.

I'm very concerned about the environment the Canadian military is being asked to fight in, not only from the point of view of military strategy, but also because of what our young men and women are seeing and what they're being asked to do. I think it should concern us all.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

I'm wondering about the central Afghan government. We've heard from a variety of witnesses about the way that Canadians have been helping in Kabul to do capacity building, to train the Afghan national army. And all of these things have sounded very positive. What evidence of this kind of development have you seen from the national government of Afghanistan in Kandahar province? Is there any sense that the state government is in control? Is there any sense that they're able to reach out and do anything to alleviate this poverty or keep a basic level of order in the province? Does the government there have any means or ability to do this?

4:10 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

It's very difficult, especially in the south. They started from nothing, with very little infrastructure. We spent a lot of time, money, and effort on having an election, but the locals don't understand elections and democratic power. Being elected as an MP in Afghanistan, for example, doesn't mean anything to them.

You ask those people, “Did you vote?” They voted. It was organized for them to go and vote, but they don't understand what they did. They don't understand what an MP is. In their culture this means there's no authority to this system. It's the commander, the local strongman, who's running the joint. So the MPs themselves are hamstrung, because nobody understands what they do, and they have no independent budget. The Afghan government has no independent budget, because the international community is telling the Afghan government pretty much what to spend money on and what not to. So the parliamentary infrastructure is very light on the ground. It has no reality in rural Kandahar, none whatsoever.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

I know that you met with members of the opposition parties earlier today and shared your information. Have you had an opportunity to present your information to the minister or to any of the minister's officials, here in Canada?

4:15 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

We wrote the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but their schedules did not permit them to meet with us.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

Mr. Hiebert.

October 25th, 2006 / 4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Thank you for being here.

I have a number of questions, which I'll try to keep brief, and I hope you'll follow my lead.

My first question is concerned with reports we've heard from various media sources, including the BBC, that on October 15 the democratically elected government of Afghanistan asked your organization to close its offices and leave the country. I understand you received a letter from the interior minister to that effect. I'm unaware of any other policy think tank that has been asked to leave Afghanistan. I wonder if you could explain to the committee why the democratically elected government of Afghanistan would ask you to leave.

4:15 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

He didn't ask us to leave. We did receive a letter from the Minister of the Interior that said they were concerned that in discussing growing poppies for medicine, morphine and codeine, we were violating the part of their constitution that said poppies should not be grown for heroin, and we should be very careful about that in the future.

We accept their concern and their warning, and we're staying. I imagine people asked us because they're concerned that we are raising controversial counter-narcotic issues and criticizing eradication policies.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Perhaps, Mr. Chair, on a point of privilege, we could get a copy of that letter, as it was quoted in the answer.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

If it's available, I'm sure they'll supply it.

4:15 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Yes, it's in Dari.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Okay.

You made statements to multimedia outlets in the past few days, and certainly during this committee meeting. The claim was made that starvation is a serious problem in parts or maybe all of the southern region of Kandahar. But yours is the only group I've heard make such a claim. So I had my office talk to the International Committee of the Red Cross today, and they were unable to support that assertion.

I also noted that only a few days ago, the UN World Food Programme, which is actively involved in delivering aid to thousands of people in Afghanistan, also submitted evidence that there's great success in their ability to deliver food aid.

In light of the fact that at least two recognized organizations actually engaged in emergency relief do not corroborate the message you're communicating to us today, I wonder if you can provide us with more details, perhaps the names of the villages or the number of people you believe are affected.

4:15 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Yes, I'm happy to do that.

The World Food Programme in July, along with the Afghan government, asked for $93 million for emergency food aid for southern Afghanistan. We checked their website, and they said they have received .03% of the funding they requested.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Interesting. I have additional information. Perhaps we can discuss it after the meeting.

My third question has to do with the point you were making about the eradication of poppies. I think it was at our last meeting that we had a person providing evidence, Colonel Capstick, who told this committee that “We have to be careful about drawing direct linkages between eradication and starvation.” That's a direct quote. He said that it's more complicated than that, that the drug cartels are providing the seeds, the fertilizer, and they actually harvest the poppies, but they only provide the farmers with subsistence cash and that the farmers are actually trapped into this particular lifestyle. He also noted that no NATO forces are involved in the poppy eradication program.

In light of the fact that the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board suggests that micro-credit loans are an effective tool to combat illicit poppy cultivation--and I note that Canada is the largest donor to this particular micro-credit program--and in light of the fact that Thailand and other countries formerly plagued by the problem of opium production were able to convert their farmers to the legal production of other crops, why is it that you're against this proven strategy in Afghanistan?