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Senator Marilou McPhedran waits to appear before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa on April 19.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Senator Marilou McPhedran said Wednesday she had lost track of how many Canadian travel documents her office sent Afghans fleeing the Taliban, and that she doesn’t know how many documents were issued by other organizations using a template provided by her office. But she maintained all of it was authorized by the federal government.

Ms. McPhedran was testifying to the House of Commons immigration committee Wednesday evening, after months of questions about her office’s role in sending the documents, called facilitation letters, to Afghans during the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan in summer 2021.

The facilitation letters appeared to authorize the Afghans to enter Canada, but the government has said the documents were inauthentic and invalid, and that Ms. McPhedran was not authorized to distribute them. Hundreds of Afghans who received the letters mistakenly believed they had been approved to come to Canada, but have not been allowed to resettle here.

The senator, who is also a lawyer, flatly rejected the government’s assertions. She told the committee that comments on the matter from the government and federal sources, reported by The Globe and Mail over the past few months, are false.

“They are not true,” she told MPs.

Ms. McPhedran said the letters were issued by her office in good faith, and she said several cabinet ministers knew what she was doing. She said she has correspondence to this effect. It was not immediately available, but she said it would be tabled with the committee.

She testified before the committee for an hour. Her responses to MPs appeared inconsistent with earlier testimony and previously released information.

For example, she said in a February affidavit that her office issued about 640 letters. But on Wednesday she told MPs she couldn’t say how many were issued, because she “did not keep close track.” She also said the government was kept abreast of the identities of the people receiving the letters from her office, but she later acknowledged that she didn’t know all of the names that were added to the documents.

She told MPs that in August, 2021, her office received a template facilitation letter from George Young, who was chief of staff to the defence minister at the time, Harjit Sajjan. She said she took that to mean she had been given authority to issue the letters. She added that she believed she was acting on behalf of Global Affairs Canada.

She said her office added individual Afghans’ names to the documents and then distributed them. And she said her office provided the template document to “trusted advocates,” who in turn also added names to the documents and distributed them.

The e-mail to Ms. McPhedran from Mr. Young, which has been filed in a related court case, contains few directions. The facilitation letter template is attached to a brief message ending with “try it.” Mr. Young has not provided any comment to The Globe about his role in the matter.

The documents said each person named on them had been “granted a VISA to enter Canada,” and asked that they be given access to the Kabul airport. The government has said authentic facilitation letters were meant only to get people past security and Taliban checkpoints, and were not themselves visas.

Ms. McPhedran told the MPs she was not responsible for people who received the letters believing they had been authorized to move to Canada.

“The letters that were conveyed by my office came from Global Affairs Canada. If there were any promises made, those promises were made by the Government of Canada,” Ms. McPhedran said.

In court filings, the government rejects that perspective. It writes that Ms. McPhedran had “no authority” to issue visas or temporary resident permits, and it argues the constitutional separation of powers prevent the senator from having that authority. Ms. McPhedran was challenged by both Liberal and opposition MPs on Wednesday to explain why she believed she wasn’t subject to that standard.

In September, The Globe first reported that an Afghan family was stranded after receiving facilitation letters from Ms. McPhedran’s office. They have since been able to immigrate to the United States. Separately on Tuesday, The Globe reported that 163 Afghans sponsored by FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, are stranded in an Albanian hotel after receiving the same type of documents from Ms. McPhedran’s office.

A senior federal official told The Globe a total of 228 Afghans connected to FIFA had received the letters from Ms. McPhedran’s office. Those Afghans are now part of two continuing Federal Court cases, in which they are trying to force the government to honour the documents and grant them entry to Canada. The Globe is not naming the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said Ms. McPhedran’s actions raised security concerns, because the names on the documents weren’t verified. And she said the use of the documents was unfair to Afghans trying to get to Canada through official means.

Ms. McPhedran expressed skepticism that Afghan women could pose a security threat to Canadian soldiers, and said she didn’t need to verify the Afghans’ names because she trusted the advocates she was working with.

Liberal MP Fayçal El-Khoury asked Ms. McPhedran why she believed an e-mailed template gave her permission to distribute the letters.

“In an extreme humanitarian crisis, in a huge emergency, that’s not when bureaucratic processes should triumph,” Ms. McPhedran responded.

After an hour of testimony, the Liberals, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, adjourned the meeting with an hour left on the clock. Liberal MP Arielle Kayabaga said she believed MPs had exhausted their questions for Ms. McPhedran.

That perspective was not shared by NDP and Conservative MPs, who after the meeting questioned Ms. McPhedran’s credibility. Ms. Rempel Garner called the senator’s evolving testimony “extremely troubling.”

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she had been hoping to ask about the inconsistencies before the meeting was “cut off.” She said the information provided by Ms. McPhedran raises more questions for Mr. Sajjan, who will testify at committee next week.

The senator declined to stop for reporters, but while walking through hallways and down an escalator she clarified that she went over the names of the Afghans who received the letters during meetings in September, 2021. She declined to answer most other questions.

“I’m sorry you’re confused,” Ms. McPhedran told reporters as she left the building.

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