Senator Marilou McPhedran’s office issued 640 Canadian travel documents to Afghans trying to escape the Taliban in 2021, which she says was done with the approval of a senior government official, even though Ottawa later called those papers inauthentic and asked police to investigate.
In an affidavit filed in Federal Court, Ms. McPhedran said consultant Laura Robinson, who was working on her behalf, issued the documents or helped “trusted advocates” issue them. Ms. McPhedran added that George Young, the former chief of staff to then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan, sent her office two template versions of the papers, which she called visa facilitation letters.
Maryam Monsef, who in 2021 was the minister for women and gender equality, was copied on part of the e-mail exchange with Mr. Young. Ms. Monsef was defeated in the 2021 election and is no longer an MP. She has not replied to repeated requests for comment from The Globe and Mail.
The documents that Ms. Robinson distributed to Afghans said that each of the people named on them had been “granted a VISA to enter Canada” and asked that they be allowed safe passage to the Kabul airport. The Globe has separately obtained documents that show the letters were also sent to Afghans directly by Ms. McPhedran and a member of her staff.
The federal Immigration Department has repeatedly said that it did not authorize any third party to issue facilitation letters on its behalf. Following an internal review, it determined that the documents sent by Ms. McPhedran and her office were inauthentic, and the matter was referred to police.
Ms. McPhedran’s role in sending the Canadian government travel documents was first reported by The Globe in September. Before filing her affidavit, she had not disclosed how many letters her office had sent to Afghans. In the affidavit, she also acknowledged for the first time that she and her staff members were the ones who added the individual Afghans’ names to the documents.
“At no point – either orally or in the many email communications – did he place any limitation on the use of the letters, not temporally nor in terms of the numbers of recipients,” Ms. McPhedran wrote about Mr. Young in her affidavit.
The letters led Afghans who received them to believe, mistakenly, that they had been formally approved to come to Canada. Ms. McPhedran filed her affidavit on behalf of a group of Afghans who are taking the government to court in an attempt to force it to honour the letters.
In court documents, Maureen Silcoff and Sujit Choudhry, lawyers representing the Afghans, argue that Ms. McPhedran’s evidence shows that Global Affairs Canada “delegated to her authority to issue the letters.”
Ms. McPhedran made similar comments in her affidavit, saying it was clear to her that Mr. Young “had delegated authority to myself and Ms. Robinson to insert names of persons already discussed and to add new names to the facilitation visa letter template, as we became aware of new individuals in the categories already discussed.”
The individuals to which Ms. McPhedran was referring were Afghans vulnerable to Taliban oppression.
E-mails sent by Mr. Young to Ms. Robinson and Ms. McPhedran are included in the senator’s affidavit. They do not explicitly say that he has delegated authority to Ms. McPhedran. “I have received this from a colleague at [Global Affairs Canada] … try it,” he wrote when he sent the first letter template. It is not clear from the affidavit where Mr. Young obtained the second template.
In her response to Mr. Young, Ms. Robinson told him she would be adding names to the documents, unless a government official could do it.
In her affidavit, Ms. McPhedran said the complete list of 640 Afghans to whom her office had sent travel documents was submitted to senior staff in the immigration minister’s office in September, 2021. But by mid-September, Ms. McPhedran wrote, the government had said it “would not honour the Canadian facilitation visa letters.” In response to that news, she e-mailed senior government officials to express her dismay.
Mr. Young declined a request for comment. On Wednesday, Christiane Fox, the deputy minister of immigration, told The Globe there was only one version of the federal government’s official facilitation letter.
In her court filing, Ms. McPhedran also said that Oz Jungic – a policy adviser in the office of Marc Garneau, who was then foreign affairs minister – was copied on an e-mail containing the first of the two facilitation letter templates. Ms. McPhedran wrote that she received the “approval of Mr. Jungic,” but the e-mails related to the exchange do not show any comment from him.
On Wednesday at the House of Commons immigration committee, which is considering launching an investigation into the matter, senior Immigration Department officials told MPs legitimate facilitation letters were sent only by the Immigration and Global Affairs departments, and that the purpose of the documents was to ensure people who had already been granted entry to Canada could get to the Kabul airport for their flights. The officials said the letters were not visas and could not be used as entry documents in Canada.
They said nobody arrived in Canada using the inauthentic letters. But Ms. McPhedran has said she succeeded in saving lives and getting people out of Afghanistan.
Rescue efforts in Afghanistan were hampered by a chaotic and inadequate response from the Canadian government. Despite promising Afghans who had worked closely with Canada’s military and diplomatic missions safe haven, the government was ill prepared to deliver on its pledge and left many people stranded in Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban, or stuck in third countries.
On Aug. 15, 2021, the same day as the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Mr. Trudeau called a snap election, and the government was sapped of the ministerial staff that would typically have helped it co-ordinate an emergency response.
In a statement to The Globe, Ms. Robinson acknowledged that she worked with Ms. McPhedran to send the letters “to individuals at a time where their lives were in serious and imminent danger.” She did not address a question about whether she had permission to distribute the letters.
In her affidavit, Ms. McPhedran said she regularly e-mailed Mr. Garneau, Mr. Sajjan, then-immigration minister Marco Mendicino and his senior staff, including Mike Jones and Olga Radchenko.
Global Affairs Canada, the Immigration Department and the Prime Minister’s Office did not answer questions from The Globe on Thursday, including questions about whether Mr. Young had been granted the power to delegate authority to Ms. McPhedran and her staff.
Instead, all of the federal departments referred The Globe to a statement issued by the Immigration Department on Wednesday. Spokesperson Rémi Larivière said no third party was given authority to issue the letters, and that the matter was sent to the police. He said he couldn’t comment further because of potential investigations and active lawsuits.
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