Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is calling for a parliamentary probe into the extent to which inauthentic Canadian government travel documents were used during efforts to rescue people from the Taliban last year, and into the fairness of the government’s resettlement programs for Afghans.
On Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Senator Marilou McPhedran and her staff sent documents to an Afghan family shortly after the Taliban overthrew Afghanistan’s government in August, 2021. The documents, called facilitation letters, said the people named on them had been granted visas to enter Canada. The letters were meant to help those people get through Taliban checkpoints on their way to Kabul’s airport.
But the federal government told The Globe the documents the Senator and her office sent were not authentic, and that the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada. Authentic facilitation letters were sent only directly by the federal government, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters on Wednesday.
The Immigration Department referred the matter to police. The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they had launched investigations.
Ms. McPhedran, whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended for a Senate appointment in 2016, has defended her actions to The Globe. She has acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.
She said she had worked around the clock to help vulnerable people get out of Afghanistan during an inadequate federal effort to save Afghans last year. She added that a senior government official had given her the facilitation letter template, and that people within government were aware of her work. Despite repeated requests to the Immigration Department and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran.
Receiving the documents from the Senator and her office left the Afghan family with the mistaken belief that they had been approved to come to Canada. That belief led them to risk their lives attempting to reach the airport, and also delayed their efforts to secure valid visas.
The people who received the documents are family members of one of Ms. Rempel Garner’s constituents. They first reached out to the MP’s office because not everyone in the family had received the documents, and they wanted to know why some had been left out. The group is still in Afghanistan, where they say they are being hunted by the Taliban. To protect their safety, The Globe is not identifying them.
“This case raises a lot of questions about the integrity and the fairness of the initial program,” Ms. Rempel Garner said in an interview with The Globe. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”
For example, she said, it remains unclear whether her constituent’s family members were the only ones who received inauthentic documents. And she said it is also unclear how many spaces in Canada’s resettlement programs for vulnerable Afghans were taken by people with such unofficial documents.
Ms. McPhedran did not answer The Globe’s questions about whether she sent similar documents to other people.
The federal government has said no one arrived in Canada using invalid documents, but a government source was unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
In the years before the Taliban takeover, the Canadian government promised Afghans who worked with Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they would receive asylum in Canada, because their work with a foreign government put them at risk of Taliban reprisals. But the government didn’t create resettlement programs for Afghans until last year. Its effort to process those immigrants came too late for many, and was unable to meet overwhelming demand.
Ms. Rempel Garner spoke to The Globe with the permission of the Afghan family. They had formally applied for resettlement in Canada in the first wave of applications last year, but they later discovered their initial application had been lost.
A letter from Mr. Fraser to Ms. Rempel Garner, which was obtained by The Globe, said the family had not received a valid invitation to apply, despite the fact that they had received an invitation from a government of Canada e-mail address.
A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans had already reached capacity limits set by the government.
In Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Fraser said letters that inaccurately purport to be from the government of Canada are a “very serious” matter. He added that he is concerned by any case where vulnerable people “might not be able to rely on documents they have received.”
But Mr. Fraser said he is not concerned that there has been widespread fraud, because the government has not uncovered a significant number of inauthentic documents.
Ms. Rempel Garner said her constituent’s family’s case also raises questions about the overall process that the federal government used to approve or reject resettlement applications from Afghan nationals. She said it’s not clear why her constituent’s family members, who worked for an organization under contract with the Canadian government, didn’t qualify for the immigration programs.
And she said the family’s efforts to escape Afghanistan were not hampered just by the inauthentic documents, but also by long waits for answers from the government about the status of their case. It took almost a year for the government to confirm to Ms. Rempel Garner that the documents the family had received were not authentic.
In 10 years of constituency casework, she said she has never experienced the level of federal government stonewalling that her office dealt with in this case. “Why that happened is something that needs to be examined through Parliament, or the government needs to pro-actively address it, because that really raises concerns about integrity within the immigration system,” she said.
“For this particular family, they’re in a great degree of danger now in Afghanistan. And the government has essentially said there’s not a lot of options to help them.”
NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she was taken aback by the use of inauthentic documents reported by The Globe. She called for more “clarity and investigation.”
Ms. Kwan said the police should make clear whether they are investigating the case. If they are, she said, any parliamentary probe should begin only after the police work is completed.
She also repeated her earlier calls for the government to lift what she said is an arbitrary cap on the number of spots in its immigration programs for Afghan nationals. She said the programs should be expanded so that all Afghans who served Canada can qualify.
“We need to bring them all to safety,” she said.
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