Politics

MPs implored federal government to bring former Afghan politician to Canada before she was killed

A group of Canadian politicians from all different parties says it has been working since last October to bring nine women who were former Parliamentarians in Afghanistan to Canada. Now, one of them has been killed at her home in Kabul.

Concerns remain for 8 other women who are former MPs still stuck in Afghanistan

A woman in a black dress stands next to a row of national flags, gently touching the Afghanistan one.
Former Afghan lawmaker Mursal Nabizada was shot dead by gunmen at her house on Saturday, according to police in Kabul. Canadian politicians had been trying to bring her to Canada and are urging the government to act quickly to expedite the immigration of eight other women who are former lawmakers from Afghanistan. (Submitted by Fawzia Koofi)

Canadian politicians were working to bring Mursal Nabizada, a woman who used to serve as a Member of Parliament in Afghanistan before the Taliban's takeover in August 2021, to this country before she was killed this weekend. 

The exact circumstances of Nabizada's death are unclear, but police in Kabul said she and her bodyguard were killed by unknown gunmen, and her brother injured, all in an attack that took place at her home overnight on Saturday. 

"It was devastating news and very tragic," said Alex Ruff, the Conservative MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen-Sound, Ont., one of six Canadian MPs who have been collaborating behind the scenes since last October to fast-track immigration for Nabizada and eight other female Afghan MPs who remained in Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover of the country nearly two years ago. 

"We came together as an all-party group to advocate for their really urgent movement to safety and to come to Canada," said Ruff, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan himself. 

The group also includes Green Party of Canada co-leader Elizabeth May, the Bloc Québécois' Alexis-Brunelle Duceppe, the NDP's Heather McPherson, and Liberals Marcus Powlowski and Leah Taylor Roy. 

"We cannot lose another woman that is on that list. We cannot afford that. We have a responsibility," said Brunelle-Duceppe. "This government is supposedly a feminist government. Well, it has to prove it."

Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe in February 2021.
Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe speaks during Question Period in February 2021. He is one of six Canadian MPs urging the federal government to bring other female MPs from Afghanistan to Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Slain MP had 'bright spark,' activist says

Corey Levine, a human-rights activist who met Nabizada while posted in Afghanistan with the United Nations from November 2020 to June 2021, said she had a "bright spark to her."

Levine was in Afghanistan in June 2022 as well. She said she had managed to convince the Canadian MPs of different political stripes to work together to bring Nabizada and the eight other female politicians to Canada from Afghanistan.

"Their lives had gone from being top of Afghan society as being public figures representing their constituents in Parliament to going into hiding." 

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She said that initially, Nabizada had wanted to stay in Afghanistan, but Levine convinced the former MP that moving to Canada was safer. 

"She was ready to leave," said Levine, who found out about Nabizada's killing Saturday night through a group chat with the other female MPs.

"I ended up staying up all night texting with the women," she said. "We were just trying to process the loss, what it meant for them … just trying to be there for each other." 

Government willing to work with all parties

CBC reached out to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser for an interview, but the federal government did not make him available. 

In a statement issued jointly by his office and that of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Ottawa condemned Nabizada's murder, and called for "the perpetrators of this horrific crime to be brought to justice." 

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser speaks at a news conference in Ottawa in October 2021. In a statement from his office and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Ottawa condemned Nabizada's murder. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal government also said it will continue to do everything it can to welcome Afghans. 

"This includes working with Members of Parliament from all parties to advance our nation's efforts, and specifically, bring more women leaders to Canada," said the statement, which was short on particulars about this group of female Afghan MPs. 

But Taylor Roy, one of the two governing caucus Liberals among the Canadian Parliamentarians trying to bring the women to Canada, suggested there are a number of challenges and that it's not a simple matter of putting the women on a plane leaving Afghanistan. 

"There's so many people applying through these [immigration] programs, and one of the problems is that these women are still in Afghanistan," Taylor Roy said. "And of course there's great danger in moving them to another country." 

"They have to have assurance that they have somewhere to go because we know neighbouring countries have been returning refugees back to Afghanistan. If this were to happen to any of them, obviously they would be in the hands of the Taliban." 

In late December, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News it had received word from the government of Pakistan that it would not force paperless Afghan migrants to return to Afghanistan. 

The federal government has pledged to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. Since August 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says that 27,345 Afghans have arrived here under various programs. 

WATCH | Afghan-Canadian journalist on dismantling of women's rights in Afghanistan: 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raffy Boudjikanian

Senior reporter

Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.

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