Politics

Canada's troubled efforts to resettle Afghan military interpreters 'insulting' to veterans: O'Toole

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is accusing the Liberal government of making a sloppy and half-hearted attempt to resettle Afghan interpreters who worked alongside the Canadian military.

Ottawa is aiming to rescue and resettle thousands of Afghans who worked with Canadian soldiers

A Canadian soldier hangs a flag on a mountainside near the operating base at Ma'sum Ghar in 2007. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is accusing the Liberal government of making a sloppy and half-hearted attempt to resettle Afghan interpreters who worked alongside the Canadian military.

"To our Afghanistan veterans, this is a critical loose end from that war that we need to address," O'Toole said today.

"It is insulting to our military community and another sign of a Liberal government totally disconnected from the needs of our country."

The Conservative leader used his opening remarks during an infrastructure announcement in Fredericton, N.B. to address Ottawa's new resettlement mission, which has been mired in controversy this past week.

Prospective applicants to the program were informed earlier this week that they had only three days to complete a series of online forms and digitize a range of sensitive documents.

The government later said there was no firm deadline for the applications — but many worry that the program's rocky start could put Afghans who worked with Canada in danger of violent reprisals by the Taliban.

The Taliban — which Canadian soldiers fought for more than a decade — is gaining momentum and putting pressure on key cities across the country as the United States begins withdrawing troops from the country.

"They are at risk of persecution and even death because they worked for our country and supported our men and women in uniform," O'Toole said.

Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O'Toole said the government is only moving to resettle Afghan interpreters and their families because of pressure from veterans. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Former embassy worker says more help is needed

Nipa Banerjee, who worked at the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006, commended the government for dropping the three-day deadline but said prospective applicants are still struggling and in need of better assistance.

Many of the eligible applicants were not interpreters and do not speak English well enough to navigate complex immigration documents, she said.

"The forms are also difficult to be understood because in some places there are sort-of technical terms," said Banerjee, who oversaw Canadian development programs during her time in Afghanistan.

Banerjee said Afghans she once worked with have been contacting her about their troubles with the applications. Some have reported being spurned by the Canadian embassy in Kabul when asking for help.

"If the embassy could provide some assistance for a local person, that would be good," she said.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said that follow-up messages have been sent to those who may have been confused by the initial instructions, which included the three day deadline.

"Officials have reached out to applicants to clarify this and will continue actively working with clients to assist them in completing their applications," wrote Émilie Simard in an email. 

"We have also engaged local support staff to assist clients with any language barriers in submitting their applications and documentation."

Freeland reaffirms Canada's 'moral responsibility'

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reiterated for the second consecutive day today the government's intention to resettle Afghans who helped Canadian soldiers — though she offered no new details about when exactly that will begin.

"We, as a country, have a moral responsibility towards them and we absolutely recognize that," Freeland said today.

"We are working very, very hard to make it possible for people who did work for Canada, for their families, to come to Canada very, very quickly."

The U.S. meanwhile, is conducting its own mission to resettle Afghans who assisted the U.S. military during the war. The first flight carrying more than 200 of those workers and their families landed in the U.S. today.

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