Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the legislation that was introduced by my colleague, the hon. Minister of Public Safety. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, I know our team needs to work closely to keep Canadians safe while also responding to the humanitarian crisis and bringing people to Canada.
In response to the situation in Afghanistan, Canada has acted to support the many women and girls, members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, human rights defenders, journalists, and ethnic and religious minorities who face oppression, persecution and violence from the Taliban.
It is not an overstatement to suggest that coming to Canada is a second lease on life for some of the world's most vulnerable people.
We made it a priority to resettle the Afghan nationals who supported the efforts of Canada and its allies during the mission in Afghanistan, along with their families. We are deeply committed to our goal of bringing at least 40,000 Afghan nationals to Canada by the end of 2023. We are proud to say that this is one of the most substantial commitments of any country in the world, and we are well on our way to meeting it.
Afghanistan represents one of the largest and most difficult resettlement efforts in Canada's history. The challenges of this resettlement initiative are unlike any other we have faced, starting with the chaos that ensued as the Taliban closed in on Kabul and the bombing of innocent women and children who gathered at the airport to flee the country.
The international withdrawal of military and diplomatic missions left little to no capacity to support the special immigration measures we had created for Afghans in Afghanistan. There are significant challenges in conducting immigration activities and finalizing applications in Afghanistan. That is why Afghans need to travel outside Afghanistan to neighbouring countries before their applications can be finalized. Once in these other countries, what we refer to as third countries, immigration processing can be completed and travel onward to Canada can be arranged.
There are also significant challenges involved in supporting Afghan movement, both to neighbouring countries and onward to Canada. Our government has been doing everything within our control to tackle these challenges head on. To mitigate against some of the obstacles, we have been working with NGOs and other organizations in the region to support these activities. That said, we have not let the barriers that the Taliban have thrown up to the international community stand in our way. To date, nearly 30,000 Afghans have been successfully resettled here in Canada.
These people are Afghan nationals who collaborated on our mission in Afghanistan by working as interpreters, or in other roles, and their families, women and girls who are under the threat of renewed oppression and members of other ethnic and religious groups who are victims of persecution.
In Canada, these Afghan nationals will be able to feel safe after experiencing horrible trauma. I have to say that this is one of the most difficult tasks I have undertaken in my career, but also the most rewarding. As a parliamentarian and a Canadian, I am proud of what we have accomplished.
While there are many people in Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada and other departments working every day on this challenge, all members of Parliament could be proud of the role they play in supporting vulnerable Afghans and providing them with a new home. This can, in fact, be something that all Canadians can be proud of. Canada has stood with those who face oppression and persecution. We have worked to bring them here to provide them with a new home and support their transition to a better life in Canada.
I want to tell the House about one inspiring woman in particular. Her name is Maryam Masoomi. She grew up in Pakistan and Afghanistan, studying at a progressive school that championed education for women.
She worked in media and was the leader of an all-female music group called Sounds of Afghanistan in Kabul. Her songs about education, peace and women's empowerment put her life in danger when the Taliban seized control. If she had stayed in Afghanistan, Maryam would have faced a world where she was not permitted to study, work, sing or even leave the house without a male family member. As a member of the Hazara, an ethnic minority persecuted by the Taliban, and given her progressive education, she would have been the target of threats, abuse, forced marriage and possibly even execution.
She left her homeland, facing dangerous Taliban checkpoints, and she was able to escape with the help of the 30 Birds Foundation. Today, she hosts a radio show in Saskatoon called Kabul Jan, which features music from Afghanistan. She is able to once again perform music. She participated in a special day celebration in 2022. She is also a youth program facilitator at the Saskatoon Open Door Society, which helps other newcomers settle in and integrate into Canada.
Thousands of women like Maryam are given a second chance thanks to Canada's efforts. Canada has done a lot of good work and is still helping Afghans to come and settle here, but we are facing significant obstacles.
The language in the Criminal Code is very specific. As it is presently written, no one can make or authorize payments knowing that they may be used by, or benefit, the Taliban. To do so would risk contravening the Criminal Code's counterterrorism financing provision. As it is written, it is an effective tool for combatting terrorism, but it could impede the provision of much-needed humanitarian assistance and immigration services in a geographic region controlled by a terrorist group. This could involve anything from paying transportation costs, taxes, government charges or other fees.
Any Canadian or person in Canada making or authorizing such payments would risk contravening the Criminal Code's counterterrorism financing provision, given that these payments may be used by or could benefit the Taliban. As the Taliban controls the government, it is now benefiting from taxes, import tariffs and administrative fees. These fees are hard to avoid when supporting critical immigration processing and the movement of people out of Afghanistan.
The bill introduced by my colleague constitutes a reasonable and practical approach that keeps in place strong provisions to fight terrorism, while addressing one of the main obstacles to carrying out immigration activities within Afghanistan.
The proposed changes would facilitate the movement of vulnerable Afghans to a third country where it would be possible to continue the immigration process.
These changes would also give us the ability to respond to other similar situations that might arise, so that Canada's humanitarian response can be fully executed, no matter where in the world we find ourselves responding next. To do this, the legislation creates an authorization regime to facilitate the delivery of international assistance and immigration activities in geographic regions controlled by terrorist groups.
This authorization regime establishes a process whereby individuals and organizations, including Government of Canada departments, must submit an application in order to be authorized by the Minister of Public Safety to carry out specific activities. Accordingly, applicants will be protected from any criminal responsibility in the event that they carry out activities, including financial transactions, in countries or regions under terrorist regimes.
These efforts are aligned with the recommendation of the Special Committee on Afghanistan.
I would like to take, actually, a brief moment to thank all of my colleagues and all of the witnesses who contributed to the special committee work. These efforts led to important recommendations and the final report. More specifically, the report recommends that we “act immediately to ensure that registered Canadian organizations have the clarity and assurances needed–such as carve-outs or exemptions–to deliver humanitarian assistance and meet basic needs in Afghanistan without fear of prosecution for violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.”
The report also recommended, “Canada review the anti-terrorism financing provisions under the Criminal Code and urgently take any legislative steps necessary to ensure those provisions do not unduly restrict legitimate humanitarian action”.
Certain obstacles, such as Taliban exit requirements, access to Afghan passports, restrictions on the movement of women and girls, and entry and exit requirements in third countries, will continue to pose challenges. That said, the proposed legislation would provide an impactful tool to help Canada bring vulnerable Afghans to safety.
I hope that members of the House welcome this bill and work together to expedite it. We must come together so we can continue our efforts to help some of the world's most vulnerable people, such as women and girls who face oppression find a new life here in Canada, Afghans who helped us during our mission in the country, female judges who convicted Taliban fighters and need to flee the country, and former legislators and journalists who continued to stand up every day to bravely fight for the rights of women and girls.