Evidence of meeting #11 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aid.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rahul Singh  Executive Director, GlobalMedic
Alexis Gaiptman  Executive Director, Humanity and Inclusion Canada
Zaid Al-Rawni  Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Relief Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Erica Pereira

4 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul Singh

First, I assume you're talking about Azerbaijan. I didn't quite hear the translation, but I'm sure it's that. I don't think we should be using drones in conflict zones, because it muddies the waters, especially in that conflict, where drones were too often used to launch weaponry and harm people. I don't know that people can tell the difference between a good drone and a not-so-good drone, so I wouldn't use them in that.

Ensuring that aid reaches the right people and isn't taken by the wrong people and sold for weapons or weaponized is something that all humanitarian aid agencies lose sleep over, and they really work on that. We're no exception to that. Every aid agency has roles and protocols, etc. that we follow to make sure that aid reaches the right folks.

While we really push the agenda of using drones, there is a time and a place to use them, and I don't think we're quite at the point of using them in that conflict zone. We did not use the drones to deliver those kits to those families. As you know, with that conflict many of those families have fled that area and gone into a different zone now, which is where those kits are being distributed to. We have the highest amount of confidence that they're not going to the wrong folks.

And then remember: We're providing hygiene kits and water purification solutions. These things cannot be weaponized.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Montarville, QC

Thank you very much for these very clear answers.

I would now like to turn to our witness from Islamic Relief Canada on an issue that has been raised a number of times during the work of this committee, and that is the difficulties that some UN agencies are experiencing, which are compounded by this health crisis. I'm thinking in particular of the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

Do you work with Palestinian refugees or is this an area where you'd like to become more involved in the near future?

4:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Relief Canada

Zaid Al-Rawni

I'll answer the question. I think I have 30 seconds.

Palestinian refugees are all around the Middle East but predominantly in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan. We are trying as much as we're able to help these communities. Unfortunately, there are many places and in many cases they are vulnerable and do require help. Where we can, we will help.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Thank you very much, Mr. Bergeron.

Thank you very much, Mr. Al-Rawni.

We'll go to the final series in this first round, and that goes to Mr. Harris for six minutes, please.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for coming today and making their presentations.

Each of you has a particular interest in your activities and a relationship to, potentially, the pandemic that the world is going through. I wanted to ask you about your organizations in particular.

The Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, was before this committee on November 17 and told the committee that the government has allocated $1 billion for international aid dealing with the pandemic crisis.

I'm going to ask each of you to answer this, one at a time. First of all, for GlobalMedic, has your organization received any money from this fund, or have you asked for any, and if so, what was the result? If not, why not? Would this be an opportunity for you to participate?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul Singh

The short answer is no, we haven't received any money. The other answer will be, when will the money roll out? When will it be made available for agencies to apply to?

I can tell you that, in keeping with the past and what's been happening, this money will just flow to the big agencies, which is my fear. We're going to keep repeating the same mistakes, which is why I urge you to do more with smaller organizations. They can do a lot more, with a lot more value.

Also, Mr. Harris, can you imagine if we had a central supply depot where we were providing PPE to all these nations that are not going to be out of the vaccine process as fast as other agencies? Again, these are just better ways of delivering more aid faster.

But no, we have not gotten any money.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

There's no mechanism to apply for the money at this point. Is that what you're saying?

December 8th, 2020 / 4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul Singh

Well, there are mechanisms in the sense that you could submit, but the problem with the mechanism is that, if I said to the government that I have a way of getting meals into Syria for 33¢ a portion, which is about a third of what the UN can do for its 67¢ U.S. a portion, the government would just say, look, that's our partner for emergency food, and they would just end the conversation.

There would be no opportunity. We're not innovative enough in our approach as a government to look for better value for money.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you.

Ms. Gaiptman, Humanity & Inclusion Canada, of course, is very interested and focused on people with disabilities. Is there a role for your organization in terms of accessing some of this $1 billion that the government says it has available for this? Have you an interest in applying for or being part of that stream of funds, and what would you want to do with it?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Humanity and Inclusion Canada

Alexis Gaiptman

Of course, we would be very interested in applying.

I think that, in the context of the pandemic, it's really important that we make sure we have a disability-inclusive response overall. We serve some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. We want to ensure that humanitarian law, humanitarian rights, refugee rights and the rights of persons with disabilities are central to the COVID-19 response.

We want to make sure that there is no discrimination in any form. We want to make sure that we can continue to facilitate the movement of goods and humanitarian personnel and staff in these regions that we don't always have access to.

I'd like to invite my colleague Ryan, from Uganda, to add his comments as well.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Could I just insert something before we hear that?

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Humanity and Inclusion Canada

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Where in particular would you focus or how would you focus that assistance to people with disabilities in the pandemic? Is there anything about the pandemic where you see a role specifically for this type of work?

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Humanity and Inclusion Canada

Alexis Gaiptman

We would want to make sure that we continue to work with women, men, boys and girls with disabilities and make sure they have access to resources and information regarding the pandemic, access to clean water, and access to the proper sterilization for all the equipment they need. As you can imagine, social distancing in the context of people with disabilities is nearly impossible for some people who are dependent on caregivers or on certain technologies, so we want to make sure that they have access to the proper hygiene as well, all around the world.

However, it has to start with making sure they have access to the proper information about how to take care of themselves and their loved ones as well.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Ms. Gaiptman and Mr. Harris, can I just interrupt for five seconds?

Ms. Gaiptman, can I just ask you to lower your mike a little bit more than you already have? That would be helpful for interpretation.

Back to you, Mr. Harris.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Al-Rawni, I know that you raised an impressive amount of money from private sources this year—$50 million. That's very commendable.

In terms of this $1 billion that the government says it has allocated for the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, do you see your organization as being a participant in that? Have you applied for or have you received any funds to support your work, particularly with refugees and others who might be particularly affected by the pandemic?

4:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Relief Canada

Zaid Al-Rawni

We haven't received any funds, because we haven't applied yet for any funds from this specific pot. The mechanism is still—to us, at least—unclear as to how this money will be rolled out.

When it is rolled out, there are a myriad of ways that these funds can be used in specifically responding to the COVID pandemic. The most obvious way is.... There are so many more families now that are in trouble. I'll give you a very brief example in the 30 seconds that I have.

In terms of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, some of them were able to find work, and families were able to find ways of supporting themselves. Because of the COVID pandemic and the crush that it's had on the already vulnerable communities, there is, in some cases, literally zero work available, so the dependency on food aid has shot through the roof, from our perspective, beyond our capacity to deliver in that space.

That would be an example of the type of funds where the resources can be allocated effectively to support the most vulnerable.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Thank you so much, Mr. Harris.

We'll now go on to our second round. The opening series goes to Mr. Genuis.

You have five minutes, please.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Thank you so much to all the witnesses.

Mr. Singh, I think your testimony underlines for us the importance of hearing from people who are working in international development and who don't receive government funds at the moment, because—with great respect to all the organizations involved, of course—people who are reliant on government grants are going to have to be a little bit cautious in their criticisms. I appreciate the opportunity that your testimony brings to us.

One of the points you made struck me; it was the one about doing no harm. A major concern that I have about aid involving UN organizations is that, if we end up being too dependent on the existing state system, the United Nations has to work with states in the delivery of aid, even if that entails some greater risks of diversion.

Do you have any comments on the implications of that?

4:10 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul Singh

I think if anybody in your committee does an analysis of articles from The Guardian or some of the foreign press that's been very critical of some of our allies and the way they've been spending money through the UN, particularly in Syria....

Here's what happens, in our case. Ms. Freeland when she was foreign affairs minister, said, look, these are bad people, so I'm going to put them on a sanctions list, a PNG list, and we're going to freeze their assets. These are bad folks in Syria and we can never work with them. They're sanctioned.

Ms. Bibeau, in her office the very next tower over—I honestly can't make this stuff up—then pledged an incredible amount of money through a UN agency that was actually working with the very same people who are on the sanctions list. The UN, because it doesn't have the same accountability to you as an agency as ours would, actually spends funds.... And you can look this up in articles. The UN spent $10 million in a hotel in Damascus that's owned by a gunman, a thug, who's the right hand of al-Assad. And this is my tax dollar going in through these systems.

This happened with the U.S. This happened with the U.K. This happened with Australia. It was amazing to see that we didn't really raise those points here, because it certainly happened with our money. These are some of the concerns that occur, which is why we can't just rely only on UN systems. We really need to put more of a focus on some of the smaller groups, because they can do so much more.

I'm just saying this is a big sector. We can all help, and we can all do our part. Right now, the system is too heavily weighted towards the big fish in the sea.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Singh—

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

If I can just interrupt very briefly, I'll ask you the same thing that we asked Ms. Gaiptman, which is to move your microphone down a bit, and I will pass it right back to you to continue.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Thank you.

Absolutely, working with smaller organizations, but at a minimum, we shouldn't be funding al-Assad's right-hand people here. That's really incredible. I appreciate your reference to those news articles. I'll reference those as well. It's something that we've raised in the past with Minister Gould, but I think it's something we'll need to raise again and reflect in our report.

I have a question for Mr. Al-Rawni. Thank you for all the work you do.

I wonder if you can share with us a little bit about what it's like doing international development through a faith-based or a faith-affiliated organization. I know there are many faith-based organizations from different faith traditions that are working in this space. What is the impact in terms of your engagement with Canadians, and what's the impact on the ground? Are you viewed differently on the ground, or are there maybe spaces you're able to get into on the ground that others wouldn't, or vice versa? What are the implications of that?

4:15 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Islamic Relief Canada

Zaid Al-Rawni

Thank you, Mr. Genuis.

The first thing I'll say is that, as a faith-based NGO, we are part of a myriad of organizations, secular or faith-based. Our unique position in both ends of the space, so to speak, is that we're able to speak to people's faith and merge our Canadian values with our faith values; they're not removed at all, in any sense.

When we get to places like Somalia, where people are very conservatively religious, or places like north Kenya, where the level of religiosity is quite high, it gives us access that other agencies may not have, and it's specifically useful when we're talking about things like FGM. When we're saying to people that FGM is bad, that it does bad things to girls and to their development, and to families and to women, and that it shouldn't be justified using theological text or imams, it's a very powerful tool.

The same applies when we're encouraging girls to go to school, when we're encouraging girls to stay in school and not be married off, from a faith lens. So it's a very powerful piece of the puzzle in terms of tackling some big, heavyweight issues that we wouldn't be able to handle without putting a faith lens on it.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sven Spengemann

Thanks very much.

Thank you, Mr. Genuis.

The next round goes to Ms. Sahota, for five minutes please.