Members of Parliament debated a Conservative motion Tuesday which proposes creating a special committee to examine events that led to the fall of Afghanistan, including the Liberal government’s contingency planning, and its efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens and Afghans who had assisted the Canadian government.
MPs agreed the issue is worth studying but quibbled over the format. The NDP would like more time to look at the proposal, and the Bloc Québécois said it’s in discussions with the Conservatives to improve it. The Liberals said questions about the government’s response could be dealt with at the foreign affairs committee.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole introduced the motion in the House of Commons, saying a special committee would assess what needs to be done to ensure that people left behind in Afghanistan are brought to safety and examine “what went wrong when Afghanistan was deteriorating, and the government was equivocating.”
“We need to know what to do now to make up for lost time. That is what this committee will focus on,” he said, adding, “Canada has a moral obligation to find a way to bring to Canada those who are at risk because they helped Canada.”
The Conservative motion proposes inviting the Prime Minister, ministers and senior officials to appear as witnesses, and that their meetings be televised. It also proposes a number of departments turn over e-mails and documents relating to evacuation planning.
The Liberal government promised months ago that it would resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, many of whom could not escape the country before the Taliban returned to power in August. They have since found themselves in desperate situations inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries, waiting for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to approve their applications. So far, about 4,000 Afghan refugees have arrived and more than 9,500 people inside Afghanistan are approved and waiting to come to Canada.
Afghans waiting to leave have said the Canadian government has abandoned them, and those who worked alongside Canada’s military and with the embassy said they are fearful of Taliban reprisals. Meanwhile, the country has plunged into an economic and food crisis.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told The Globe and Mail recently that he couldn’t set a date for when all 40,000 refugees would be resettled in Canada. He said capacity of referral organizations in third countries, which identify vulnerable refugees and recommend them to Canada, and extraordinary challenges within Afghanistan make it difficult to commit to a timeline.
In the Commons on Tuesday, Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Rob Oliphant, said over the summer months there was chaos and desperation in Afghanistan as the Taliban took Kabul, and that there are important questions to be asked about that time.
“We need to look at every aspect of the situation in the fall of Afghanistan, and of Kabul particularly, and the role of Canada and its allies in that case, and there are important questions I believe the opposition has every right to ask. Those questions are being asked by members of Parliament on both sides of this House.”
Mr. Oliphant said the foreign affairs committee will be struck shortly, and that, “We want to be mindful of the best use of our resources.”
“Let us find a way to do it that makes sure we do it well, carefully, and using the resources we have as individuals and that of our House, which is important. We will be asking important questions. We will be asking what actually happened last July and August, who knew what, when and where, which are important questions to ask.”
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Canada needs to pay attention to the crisis in Afghanistan, saying the delay in action endangers lives. She said the advantage of a special committee is that it would bring different departments and ministries together to get the job done, “because so far it is not working.”
“I cannot say how many people have said they have not heard from the government even though they have indeed been recognized as interpreters and were told their families should get to safety. They have had no response.”
Julien Coulombe-Bonnafous, a spokesperson for the Bloc, said the party is in discussions with the Conservatives to improve the motion and make it as constructive as possible.
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