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Conservatives push for all-party committee to examine Canada's Afghanistan response


OTTAWA — Conservatives will push for a vote on a new all-party House of Commons committee to look back at Canada's plan for the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the response to the humanitarian crisis that followed.

Leader Erin O'Toole said the committee would help Canadians understand why Canada failed to act when the United States pulled troops out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

"This government did not act and Canadians watched as those who helped our soldiers, helped our aid workers, helped our diplomats in one of the longest, most arduous missions in our history. We watched as we left people behind," O'Toole said in the House of Commons Tuesday.

The Conservative motion calls for the government to provide documents about the government's plans for the eventuality of the U.S. withdrawal, instructions that were issued to execute those plans, and communications about the impact of calling a federal election.

While members of fellow opposition parties agree with the Conservatives' assessment of Canada's response to the crisis, they said would prefer a committee with a forward-looking mandate instead.

"We can't turn back the clock on the failures that this government had, we can't go back in time. So we do have to look at going forward," said NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson.

Conservatives argue the opportunity for all-party oversight of the crisis was lost when the Liberals called an election on Aug. 15, the same day Taliban forces took control of Kabul.

Still several opposition parties are encouraged by the idea of a special committee to look to how best to deliver humanitarian aid and bring Canadian allies and vulnerable Afghans to Canada.

Several members shared personal stories of Afghan women and girls who live in peril, people who fear retribution for aiding allied forces during the war, and Canadians desperately working to get people out of the country. 

The government has committed to bring 40,000 refugees and vulnerable Afghans to Canada, but so far about 4,040 have arrived, with 500 more expected by the end of the week. 

"I'm talking to people who are working with people trying to get out of Afghanistan now, and they don't believe that the Taliban is the biggest obstacle on the ground. They think unnecessarily bureaucratic procedures as a government of Canada and immigration is a bigger obstacle," said Green party member Elizabeth May.

Opposition parliamentarians have a right to ask the important questions about Canada's response, agreed Robert Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, but he said that work could take place at an existing committee. 

"Did we learn lessons? Were there mistakes made? Can we do it better? Absolutely. Those are fair and good and reasonable questions because everyone in this house wants to make sure that we have the ability … to make a difference in the world," Oliphant told the House. 

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said a review of Canada's response will be in order eventually, but right now the government is in the middle of trying to get Afghans to Canada.

He said the resources are still needed for that work, and should not be spared to facilitate a review when there is so much work still to be done. 

"If parliamentarians from all parties want to examine the path forward (with) ideas on how we can safely and expeditiously resettle more Afghan refugees, I would benefit from their advice," Fraser said in an interview Tuesday. 

"The rearward-looking nature of the motion at a time when our effort needs to be dedicated on solving big problems in front of us is something that may not be as productive."

He is also concerned about preserving the identity and safety of those who Canada has working to protect and says the motion, as proposed, as the potential to endanger lives. 

On Monday Canada signed a joint statement with about 20 other nations to express concern about reports of summary killings and disappearances of former members of the Afghan security forces.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2021.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press