Ottawa wants to protect NGOs from terrorism lawsuits

Ottawa wants to protect NGOs from terrorism lawsuits

Ottawa wants to protect NGOs from terrorism lawsuits

Mohsen Karimi Agence France-Presse Afghan women wait to receive food aid, March 2, in Herat.

The federal government tabled legislation on Thursday to amend Criminal Code terrorism provisions that prevent Canadian NGOs from carrying out humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

“The message from Afghans, aid agencies and witnesses in parliament is clear: the situation in Afghanistan is dire,” Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday.

The minister is now proposing amendments to the Criminal Code that would allow Canadian aid workers to carry out their duties in areas controlled by terrorists without being prosecuted for complicit financing.

The bill would allow Canadian aid workers to apply for a five-year exemption to help people in crisis “in an area controlled by a terrorist group”.

Organizations non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claim that Global Affairs Canada has been warning them for more than a year that purchasing goods or hiring personnel locally in Afghanistan would involve paying taxes to the Taliban, which would amount to contributing to a terrorist group, under the Criminal Code.

This provision has prevented aid workers from even traveling to Afghanistan, as road tolls and airport taxes will go into Taliban coffers.

After the Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021, Canada's allies moved much faster to change their laws and grant exemptions to their aid workers.

Ottawa has helped fund UN initiatives in Afghanistan, but Canadian NGOs feel frustrated that they cannot be part of the response to widespread malnutrition, a particularly harsh winter and the sale of young girls for marriage. helping families to obtain basic necessities.

Groups like World Vision Canada say NGOs have refused to fundraise because of these rules, even though Afghanistan is one of the countries Canadians are most likely to donate money to.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan argued Thursday that Canada had sent millions of dollars to Afghanistan through United Nations agencies. “What (this bill) would allow us to do is expand our reach and work with trusted partners who have (even) greater reach,” he said. .

The minister also clarified that Ottawa would not then reduce its humanitarian aid. “It is our responsibility to advocate and fight very strongly for women's rights all over the world, and especially in Afghanistan,” he said.

Framed exemptions

The exemptions outlined in Bill C-41 would allow “to provide humanitarian assistance or support the provision of such assistance”, including “to save lives or alleviate the suffering of a population affected by a crisis or with acute and immediate needs”.

It would also be permitted to provide health care, education services and “programs to help people earn a living”, to promote the rights of the person and help resettle people.

Federal officials said during a technical briefing that an NGO could apply for a single permit to cover all of its activities, instead of requiring separate ones for each aid worker. Officials assured that there would be no delay in processing exemption requests.

The cabinet would grant the exemptions even if there is a risk that a terrorist group is trying to seize goods or otherwise enjoy them, officials said, “if the benefits of the activity outweigh the risk.” The decision would be based on a safety assessment or steps taken to mitigate the risk.

The Minister would make this decision, based on a safety assessment or on measures taken to mitigate this risk. Its decisions could be subject to judicial review.

The bill also prohibits anyone involved in a terrorist group, or likely to be involved, from benefiting from such an exemption. .

The Minister of Public Security should publish by July each year a report on the use of these exemptions during the previous calendar year.

NGOs “Islamic Relief” and “Save the Children” both said the changes to the law could help them provide aid in other areas controlled by terrorist groups, such as parts of Syria and Nigeria.

“Furthermore moreover, the humanitarian space is shrinking for agencies like ours. The world is becoming a difficult place for us to work in, said Danny Glenwright, director of Save the Children Canada. Better late than never. This is an important first step.

The New Democratic Party is asking Ottawa to prioritize the adoption of these amendments. “While this bill comes 18 months too late, New Democrats will give it careful consideration and ensure Canadian organizations have the tools they need to finally resume their vital work in Afghanistan,” the door wrote. – Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Heather McPherson.