CIMM#61: Obtaining info from Minister Sajjin on the issuing of unauthorized facilitation letters to Afghans

 Thank you to the minister and the officials for being at the committee.
I want to get back to some pertinent points related to the evacuation effort and, more particularly, the minister's former chief of staff's engagement in that process.

Senator McPhedran was before this committee. She answered very clearly this question: “Was Minister Sajjan aware you were sending out these facilitation letters?” The answer was yes.

Minister, can you advise the committee on that? Were you aware of these facilitation letters, yes or no?”
Citizenship and Immigration Committee on April 26th, 2023
Evidence of meeting #61 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session.
 
 


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thanks very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the minister and the officials for being at the committee.

I want to get back to some pertinent points related to the evacuation effort and, more particularly, the minister's former chief of staff's engagement in that process.

Senator McPhedran was before this committee. She answered very clearly this question: “Was Minister Sajjan aware you were sending out these facilitation letters?” The answer was yes.

Minister, can you advise the committee on that? Were you aware of these facilitation letters, yes or no?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I was not aware that Senator McPhedran was disseminating facilitation letters.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

She later on was asked a question about written correspondence related to this, and she indicated very clearly in response to that question that “he was copied on the correspondence back and forth about what we were doing.” She was referring to you when she said “he”. Are you advising the committee that you have not seen these emails?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

At that time, we were getting a lot of emails. I wasn't reading my emails. I do get a lot of emails and am probably cc'd on them, but as I told members of this committee, I was focused on the operational aspect of Afghanistan at that time.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

That's fair enough. At the time, you were busy. However, it's been some time since that fateful day. Can you advise us whether you have gone back to look at any of your emails?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

No, I have not.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

You have not.

Assuming those emails are still sitting in your inbox, would you be able to table all correspondence you had and that was copied to you from Senator McPhedran related to this matter?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I'm sure if there are any emails, she would have already provided them, I'm assuming.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Well, she has submitted documentation to the clerk, which has been submitted to translation, so committee members have not yet received them. I think it would be really important for committee members to also receive them from you. Would you be able to table that correspondence to us for verification? I think it's important to know the truth and to see what really went down.

Would the minister be able to table that correspondence exchange?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I'm happy to take a look to see if there are any corresponding emails that are relevant to this, but I can assure you at this time that I get cc'd on emails quite regularly on things, and was even cc'd at that time and afterwards. As you also know, I moved portfolios—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Yes, thank you.

More specifically, I want to get the emails related to this particular issue because I think the heart of the matter is going to be important. Throughout her testimony, the senator indicated that a variety of ministers were aware and were copied on the emails and that at no point was she advised to cease and desist. If, in fact, that is true, I think that's important information for the committee to receive.

The other issue that was indicated by the senator was that there was a small group of people in an email exchange initiated by the then minister Monsef, and your former chief of staff George Young was part of that communication. Minister, could you advise us whether you were copied on that exchange initiated by Minister Monsef?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

As I said, I'm not aware of those emails. I'm sure that if those emails are there, they will be forwarded to you by Senator McPhedran and others.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

May I also ask, then, for you to review the email exchanges in your personal account—because we were advised that this was sent to the minister's personal account—and bring forward correspondence related to this email initiated by Minister Monsef and the communication back and forth related to it?

The senator also indicated that she had copied ministers on a rolling list of names of Afghans who received the revised facilitation letter, so I'll ask this question as well, Minister: Did you, at any point in time, pick up emails with the names of Afghans who, it was indicated, would be receiving or had received these facilitation letters?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I do not know the names.

For context purposes, we were getting contacted, obviously, by many people—anybody who knew you or had contact. All those names.... People were either given a number they could call, or the names were fed through the team into the multidisciplinary—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you, Minister. Yes, I am aware of the process.

What I'm interested in, though, are emails pertaining to the rolling list of names of Afghans the senator might have copied you on. If you can, provide those to the committee as well.

Have you, at any point in time, had discussions with your former chief of staff related to the evacuation effort being made by the senator?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I'm Sorry. Can you repeat that question?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Have you, at any point in time, had discussions with your former chief of staff, George Young, related to the senator's effort to try to get Afghans to safety?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

What time period are you talking about? Do you mean now or during the evacuation period?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
Liberal

This would have been during the earlier days. It appears that it would have been early in August, right around the time when these facilitation letters were issued. It was in and around that period.

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

Just like for others who were trying to contact me, this was forwarded either to my chief of staff or directly to the department where they can contact and send that information directly.

What I didn't want to do is get bogged down in the whole situation, as I stated. We were extremely busy with just managing security because of the intelligence—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Okay.

Is the chief of staff you mentioned George Young?

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

I'm sorry for interrupting, Ms. Kwan, but your time is up.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you very much.

I want to be clear on your former chief of staff's role, Minister. You indicated that you were busy during that time with other business, so you asked your chief of staff to take care of inquiries from others about wanting to help bring Afghans to safety. Is that correct?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

My chief of staff's role.... With the work that I'm doing, he's executing that as well. For example, he's coordinating the work that we needed done. Because we had so many people calling—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I'm sorry, Minister. I have only two and a half minutes, so I'm going to have to cut you off there.

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

—I was passing on the information. I didn't want to get bogged down.

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

Ms. Kwan, perhaps you can allow the minister to answer the question.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I'm trying to be clear on the process and what you instructed your chief of staff.

He was asked to look into inquiries from people who wanted to get to safety from Afghanistan, and then to provide them with information on the proper process, following the government process of the emails and contact information that the government has put on the public record. Is that correct?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

What the process was, because I was getting—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I'm sorry. No.

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

Madam Chair, how can I answer the question?

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Minister, I don't know if you understand my question. My question is not about what the process was, but rather what your instructions were for your chief of staff.

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

Ms. Kwan, can you allow—

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

not about what the process was, but rather what your instructions were for your chief of staff.

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

I'm trying to answer the question.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

What were the instructions?

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

Ms. Kwan, perhaps you can allow the minister to answer the question. I think the opportunity should be given to the minister to answer the question.

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

You asked me a question, and I'm trying to tell you exactly what took place.

Because we were getting a lot of inquiries, we were trying to make sure the people who possibly had legitimate concerns had the appropriate phone number or the right people to contact so we didn't miss anybody.

My chief of staff's main work was not that. It was just to make sure that if somebody had something, whether it was a senator or anybody who potentially needed to get somebody out, we didn't want to lose that opportunity. My direction was that if somebody had a name, that needed to be triaged by the appropriate decision-makers who were looking at it, and that was not our department. We wanted to make sure the information could be provided to them so that the names could go to the right place.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

They were then referred to IRCC, to GAC or to another ministry. Is that correct?

Harjit S. Sajjan Vancouver South, BC
Liberal

Keep in mind that there was an interdepartmental team working at that time. We were trying to immediately send that information to the right people so that information could be triaged by the right folks.

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

Ms. Kwan, your time is up.



Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you to the officials.

One of the issues around Afghanistan is, of course, to bring Afghans who served Canada to safety, along with their loved ones. The government did bring in a special immigration measure; however, for all intents and purposes, the number that has been established is now full up. Many Afghans who served Canada, and their loved ones, are not going to have their applications processed. They will not be able to get a file number.

The minister indicated at the beginning of today's meeting that he supported all 37 recommendations from the Special Committee on Afghanistan, and part of those recommendations called for the government to bring those who served Canada, and their loved ones, to Canada safely. Have officials engaged in any discussions at all with the minister on ensuring that those individuals have an opportunity to get to safety? The 40,000 limit, the quota that's been established for that special immigration measure, needs to be lifted.


Marie-Louise Hannan
Director General, South Asia Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development


The interdepartmental effort continues to fulfill the commitment to bring the 40,000 Afghans who are eligible under this program to Canada. As you know, recently that number reached 30,000—that's an important milestone—so efforts to make the passage to Canada possible continue for those who are already outside Afghanistan. For those who remain in Afghanistan, the questions are much more complex.

I believe that efforts to reach the goals will continue first, before any discussion takes place about surpassing and going beyond the commitments that have already been made.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I can tell the officials that currently—and perhaps officials are aware—there is a court case challenging the government. This is for 24 former employees of a law firm who were retained by the embassy. One of them is a guard employed by the embassy. They're now in hiding, fearful for their lives.

Their applications, by the way, in the Special Committee on Afghanistan.... It appears that those files were lost; the government can't seem to find them. DND had them and submitted them to Immigration Canada, but Immigration Canada never got them. Anyway, it was a long and arduous process.

There's one cluster of people who are like that. There are others, by the way, including an individual I know of who served the minister. His brother is stranded abroad, as an example.

This can't be the approach. We can't carry on business as usual as though those people's lives don't matter. They've risked their lives to serve Canada.

Is it the case that all discussions around this intergovernmental table are just zeroing in on the quota that has been set? Has there been any discussion on how the quota came about? How did people come up with the 40,000? How did they set the quota for family members and individuals who served Canada?

Marie-Louise Hannan
Director General, South Asia Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

I obviously cannot comment on a matter before the courts in a legal challenge right now. Also, in accordance with the decision-making process, I will not comment on the way the determination was made to set targets. It is our job as officials to carry out the decisions of the government, and that's what everyone is working very hard to complete and do amidst very significant challenges.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

It's fair enough that it is not within the officials' authority to set the quota; I fully understand that. However, I hope that officials engage in the discussion about what happens to the people who have been left behind. I get that these situations are challenging, but they're nowhere near as challenging as they are for the people whose lives hang in the balance of Canada's making good on its duty to care and its duty to bring those who served Canada to safety. I hope that discussion is taking place among officials and that perhaps there's advice for the government's consideration in terms of Canada's living up to our responsibility to those individuals and their families. 

Similarly, some of these issues have come up in a related situation. We now have a crisis going on in Sudan as well, and we know that in the effort that has taken place, the priority for the government is to take Canadians to safety. However, those who were locally hired and who served the Canadian government are again at the back of the bus.

Are there any discussions among officials about those individuals? What effort is being made to bring them to safety? 


Marie-Louise Hannan
Director General, South Asia Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development


I am afraid the ongoing situation we're living through at the moment is not something I can comment on, and I believe it's not the subject of our discussion today.

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

The time is up for Ms. Kwan.

We'll now proceed to Mr. Redekopp for five minutes.

Mr. Redekopp, please go ahead.



Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you.

I just want to ask about the interdepartmental efforts.

At the Special Committee on Afghanistan, one of the recommendations was for the government to actually review the undertakings of the Afghanistan situation and propose recommendations, as well as review what worked, what didn't and what needs to be improved. Has that work been done in your department?


Marie-Louise Hannan
Director General, South Asia Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development


Yes. The government response was tabled, I think, in October 2022, and a number of items that Global Affairs Canada is responsible for have been worked on in the intervening times since that crisis.

I can confirm that a number of reviews have taken place, including examining the interdepartmental effort. In a situation as large and complex as this one and involving so many departments, it's normal that it takes some time to review how we could improve our response.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

With respect this department's response, is there a separate, individual report related to this that has been completed? If so, can that be tabled with the committee for review?


Marie-Louise Hannan
Director General, South Asia Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development


I believe this is very similar to a question asked earlier about the after-action review. I responded by saying that this review has been completed for Global Affairs Canada, and I am not aware of the status of the report or whether that can be shared. However, we will endeavour to take that back to colleagues who are responsible under the emergency management and consular management part of the department to follow up on, and we'll ask whether that can be shared.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you.

I will just read into the record recommendation one, the latter part of it. It says:

Furthermore, that the Government of Canada, while protecting any security clearance requirements, share the full outcome of its review with all relevant departments and agencies, and summarize the review's main findings in its response to this Special Committee's report. 

The government accepted these recommendations. If these reports have been completed, none have been tabled that I'm aware of. Why is that? That's what I'm concerned about.

The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

I'm sorry for interrupting, Ms. Kwan, but your time is up.

We will now proceed to Mr. Redekopp for three and a half minutes, and then we will end the panel with three and a half minutes for the Liberal side.

Mr. Redekopp, you have three and a half minutes.
https://openparliament.ca/committees/immigration/44-1/61/jenny-kwan-1/

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