CIMM#49: Questioning Immigration Minister on Afghan file

House of Commons Debate
Citizenship and Immigration Committee on Feb. 8th, 2023
Evidence of meeting #49 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session

 
5:05 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and thank you to the minister and officials for coming to the committee today.

On the Afghan file, I would first like to touch on the issue around the cultural interpreters. They've been excluded from the program, and it requires legal counsel representing the families to take the matter to court. I think that, just before we started this meeting, one of the cultural advisers spoke with you about the lack of action from the government.

From that perspective, why is it that cultural advisers are excluded? I know there's work in place to try to include them, but there are still extended family members who are excluded, who are being targeted and hunted down by the Taliban because of their work for Canada.

Will the minister confirm that the extended family members of the cultural advisers will be brought to safety?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

Ms. Kwan, thank you for your advocacy. 

Obviously, there are people who are facing very vulnerable circumstances. I want to be careful commenting on any specific cases, particularly when there may be legal proceedings involved. I don't want to breach confidentiality and I want to protect the integrity of any legal proceedings that may be at issue with a specific—


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Maybe I can just interject here. 

I am not asking about any specific case, but about a class of people. As you know, there is a class of people who are excluded and who are taking legal action against the government. It shouldn't have to come to that. I hope the minister realizes that.

Now that this issue is before us, the question here is, what is the minister going to do about it? Will you ensure that those family members are brought to safety, including their extended family members?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

There are just a couple of things. 

We made a decision on certain categories for bringing extended family members here. We've expanded the definition of “family” across many aspects of this program to recognize cultural differences whereby people who may not be a nuclear family still consider themselves to be a family unit. 

We rely on referral partners to place people into our programs in most instances, based on their contribution to either the Department of National Defence or Global Affairs Canada. We accept their referrals, but people can be referred into the program based on vulnerability, through private sponsorship or government-assisted programs.

I see that you want to take this in a different direction.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Well, actually I want to get to the crux and to the answer, and not this background, which I already have. I have only six minutes. I don't have that much time to get to you on direct questions. 

My question here is this: Going forward, will the minister take action to ensure that these family members come to safety?

In addition to that, you have a limit of 40,000. With that limit, the reality is that the maximum number has been reached, which means that a lot of the family members have not been processed through this system and are not going to be able to get to safety. 

I have spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of people who served Canada, and their family members, who have been left behind and ignored. They are in hiding and being hunted down by the Taliban. Some of them are in Pakistan, where their visas have expired and the police are knocking on their doors because of the expiry of their visas.

This is very real. If you don't lift the 40,000-person quota that the government has set arbitrarily, which is preventing Afghans from getting to safety, you are handing them a death sentence. That's the reality. The only reason they are in danger is that they served Canada.

My question here is twofold: Will you help to bring those families to safety—change the policy if that's what's required—and will you lift the quota?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

I want to be careful not to make guarantees to people whose files I may not be fully aware of, because people often hang on to every word I say. 

I am open to flexibly applying definitions of “family”, as we have for other programs throughout this process, to bring more people here. We have made a commitment to welcome at least 40,000 Afghan refugees. I am always looking for ways to continue to do more to help more vulnerable people get here. 

The reality of the situation is that I know there are people who are vulnerable because of their work with Canada. We've created these programs to try to bring more of them here. I am happy to work with you and others, and members who want to speak to me, including the gentleman who spoke before this meeting began, to understand the situation and how we can improve policies to support more vulnerable people. 


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Minister, I appreciate that. You've offered that before. I have raised these questions before. I have submitted letters to you. I've written to you. I've sent the spreadsheets to you. I have brought them to your staff for attention. Do you know what? They all just sit there, saying that there is nothing to move forward on. There is no progress and nothing has moved.

I have another situation, in which a family member of one brother was left behind. Supposedly they applied under the wrong stream, so that was being corrected. Since then, there has been no progress. We don't know what's happened to that family. I don't even know if they have been approved under a new stream.

You can understand the anxiety that the families feel. I feel the anxiety, and that's only one-thousandth of how they feel. That's the reality of what they are faced with.

I appreciate the offer, but the reality is that there is very little follow-up. What do we do with that? 

What we're waiting for and what I would like to see is a policy change and a public announcement. It shouldn't be just one-offs that we're working with. 

I think the situation that my colleague, Ms. Michelle Rempel Garner, raised might be exactly the problem. There is this situation whereby some people got preferential treatment. I don't know how it is that some people got facilitation letters and others didn't. 

I also had spreadsheets of people who needed to get to safety and never got one. Nobody told me that there were these facilitation letters you could get. How do you get them?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

Madam Chair, do I have time to offer a response?


The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

You have 20 seconds. 


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

There was a lot built into that question, obviously. 

If the question is how people got facilitation letters, they were issued to people who were being brought into the program for a time-limited purpose during the evacuation of Kabul. The ones that were officially offered by the Government of Canada were limited to individuals who were supposed to be coming through part of our resettlement effort. 

I'd be happy to chat further if we have an opportunity for follow-up questions in a subsequent round.
5:25 p.m.

Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I'd like to go to back to the cap of 40,000. It's clear that they are people who served Canada, and they and their family members are at risk and in danger. They are not part of the system at the moment, because of the cap. Knowing that, will the minister lift the cap so that those applicants can get a chance to get to safety?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

I don't have an announcement on a new target to make at today's committee hearing. To the extent that we can find complementary pathways that allow us to do more good, of course I'm interested.

Any time we're dealing with permanent residents who come to Canada, it's essential that we plan as part of our annual immigration levels plan or specific decisions that are taken through an official process of the government, so that we can work with settlement agencies toward capacity. 


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

Thank you, Minister.

Of course, the minister knew—or should have known—that there are these Afghans who served Canada and who, with their family members, could not get to safety before this moment in time. The minister has known this for a long time now. I have certainly written enough letters to the minister to fill a cabinet drawer full with respect to that. This is not new to the minister. That information was there before the minister, prior to the immigration levels plan that was released. 

I bring this to the minister's attention because people's lives are at risk. Until it happens, these people will not get to safety—that is the reality—and the Government of Canada is giving them a death sentence. That's also a reality that they will face. I'm sorry to say that, but that's how people are being treated on the ground.

On a different question, I asked officials for information regarding biometrics. I have the information back to indicate that “3,486 unique applications, representing a total of 10,568 persons, have at least one person on the application waiting to have their biometrics completed as of December 23, 2022.” That means they can't get their biometrics.

Because they cannot get those biometrics, will the minister consider alternatives so that they can get to safety? Can they not do that outside of country and, for some of them, actually in-house when they arrive in Canada?


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

Let me address your first point briefly, and then answer your question directly.

One of the things that's important when we're talking about the number we're trying to resettle is that we have received expressions of interest from more than a million people who want to come to Canada—


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

I'm sorry, Minister. They're not expressions of interest. I'm talking very specifically of people who served Canada and their family members.


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

I understand, but I think it's important that people understand the scale of interest from people who are seeking to take part in this program.

On your question about biometrics specifically, we've actually implemented a different security screening process that starts with enhanced biographic screening. We allow people to move through that process and complete their biometrics in a third country. We are now seeing that biometrics and security screening are not the bottleneck that they were a year and a half ago in this mission. It's proven to be somewhat successful, in my view. It ensures that we can have a rigorous security screening process pre-arrival, but it doesn't compromise the ability of a person to go through the process while they're still inside Afghanistan. 


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC
NDP

It remains that 10,568 people are still stuck in the system, so—


Sean Fraser Central Nova, NS
Liberal

And nearly that many are actually still in Afghanistan—


The Chair Salma Zahid
Liberal

I'm sorry to interrupt.

We will now proceed to Ms. Rempel Garner for five minutes.
https://openparliament.ca/committees/immigration/44-1/49/jenny-kwan-1/

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That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities and relevant officials together for two hours, or invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship with relevant officials for two hours, and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities to appear separately with relevant officials for one hour to update the committee on:

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