(OTTAWA) A Manitoba senator who denies falsifying travel documents says several ministers knew of her choice to send letters to Afghans to help them flee when the Taliban took over the country, and that no one told him to stop.
The Globe and Mail reports that 150 Afghans who received letters from Senator Marilou McPhedran are now stuck in an Albanian hotel room, unable to come to Canada as refugees because the government deems their documents to be inauthentic.
Ms McPhedran told the House of Commons Immigration Committee on Wednesday that then Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan and Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, were aware that she planned to send documents to Afghan refugees to help them leave the country in 2021.
She believes former foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau and Marco Mendicino, then immigration minister, also knew about it.
“It is very clear that there have been communications about sending out as many facilitation letters as possible,” Ms. McPhedran told the committee on Wednesday, adding that ministers had received copies of emails to this effect.
She said ministers never responded to her specifically about those letters, but did send her emails about evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.
They never told her to stop what she was doing.
The situation was referred to the RCMP, who determined they could not conduct a viable investigation.
Ms. McPhedran told the commission that Mr. Sajjan’s chief of staff gave her a sample visa facilitation letter to help Afghans get through checkpoints to leave Afghanistan.
She clarified that the model was from George Young, in an email that said, “I got this from a colleague at (Global Affairs Canada), try it out.”
The letter suggesting that the form was for Canadian citizens, she requested a revision and soon received a new template with the words “Canadian citizen” removed.
“I trusted then, as I do now, the model of facilitation provided by Mr. Young, I trusted his authenticity, and he saved many lives,” said- she told the commission.
Messrs. Sajjan and Mendicino did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and former ministers Garneau and Monsef could not immediately be reached.
In a statement, the Department of Immigration says it cannot provide further details due to ongoing litigation.
After the meeting, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said ministers needed to provide clarification to the committee.
“The real question, for me, is one of ministerial responsibility,” Ms. Kwan said.
Minister Sajjan is scheduled to appear before the commission next week, and Mr. Garneau has also been asked to testify.
“None of us would ever do this, regardless of political color, because of the division of power and the danger they can pose to soldiers, there are issues of fairness,” she said. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.
Ms. McPhedran’s office sent the letters directly to the Afghans and also shared the template with “trusted advocates”, including FIFA’s human rights officer and a former Canadian Olympic athlete.
She said she wasn’t sure how many letters were sent, but to her knowledge there were around 640.
“I was ignoring the numbers. It was about getting as many people out — as many women — as possible,” she said.
Ms McPhedran told the commission that she had provided a rolling list of names to the government, which had “fed them into the system”.
She also told the commission that she believed the letters were intended to get Afghans through checkpoints and out of the country, not to allow them to enter Canada, although the letter -even indicates that the recipient has been granted a visa to enter Canada.
The senator countered that she was not responsible for the content of the letter and that she had received it from the government.
Rempel Garner said a family member of one of her constituents received the letter and believed he had indeed received permission to come to Canada.
“Senator, you put my family’s life in danger,” Ms. Rempel Garner told Ms. McPhedran. They put their lives in danger. They have not been able to apply for regular programs.”
Ms. McPhedran said she rejected that allegation.
The committee was abruptly adjourned an hour earlier, with the support of Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs. Several MPs explained that it was because they had to go to vote in the House, while Liberal MP Arielle Kayabaga said she thought they had exhausted their questions, which were becoming repetitive.
Ms. McPhedran said she stood by the choices she made.