Manitoba senator’s failed attempt to help Afghans referred to law enforcement

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A Winnipeg senator’s attempt to help a family flee Afghanistan last year has reportedly backfired.

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A Winnipeg senator’s attempt to help a family flee Afghanistan last year has reportedly backfired.

Sen. Marilou McPhedran was featured twice this week in front page stories in the Globe and Mail. She reportedly sent “inauthentic” documents to Afghans who were desperate to escape the country as it descended into chaos following the withdrawal of American troops in 2021.

McPhedran, who ran the Global College at the University of Winnipeg and is a lawyer and advocate for human rights, told the Free Press Friday she wasn’t able to comment, while a spokesman for the federal immigration minister confirmed the case has been referred to “law enforcement partners.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Adrian Wyld

Senator Marilou McPhedran: ‘inauthentic’ documents.

The Globe reported McPhedran’s office sent letters that looked like official Government of Canada documents to a family in Afghanistan, saying that each one named had been granted a visa to enter Canada, and asking that the group be given “safe travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport so that they can board their organized flight.”

The Afghan family thought they were good to go, but discovered they hadn’t been granted visas. One year later, they remain in Afghanistan.

The Globe also reported that Conservatives are calling for a parliamentary probe into the extent to which inauthentic Canadian government travel documents were used during efforts to rescue people from the Taliban last year, and into the fairness of the government’s resettlement programs for Afghans.

On Friday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s press secretary told the Free Press the department investigated the report about the use of inauthentic “facilitation letters” and referred the matter to aw enforcement partners, but wouldn’t clarify whom.

McPhedran told the Globe she had received a template for the facilitation letter from a “trusted high-level Canadian government official” but wouldn’t name them.

There was “nothing fraudulent or illicit” in the actions she took regarding the Afghan rescue efforts, she said in an email to the paper. They were done in good faith “to help save lives” and are now being “mischaracterized.”

The senator, who was appointed to the red chamber by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was reported to have said “it’s a sad commentary about our governance and nothing more than a politically motivated smear campaign.”

The immigration minister’s press secretary explained that in order to facilitate the evacuation of vulnerable Afghans, the Canadian government sent letters directly to Afghan nationals who were eligible to come to Canada so they could clear checkpoints on the way to and at the airport in Kabul.

“When (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) became aware of the potential use of inauthentic facilitation letters, IRCC undertook an internal review of the matter in accordance with IRCC protocols and authorities,” Aidan Strickland said Friday. The department conducts administrative investigations to validate program integrity and compliance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, she said.

“Where IRCC receives information that falls outside of this context, IRCC can refer the information to law enforcement partners.” Strickland said she couldn’t provide further details “to protect the integrity and privacy of potential investigations.”

Human rights lawyer David Matas said he has no inside knowledge of the case, but it appears the source of confusion is the government and the template it provided to McPhedran for the letters.

“She didn’t just kind of fabricate them. They were templates. They didn’t have the names of any individuals in them, but my understanding was she was also given authorization to insert certain names,” Matas said Friday.

“It seems bizarre to me that Marilou McPhedran is somehow considered responsible for it, when it’s sort of one arm of the government not a co-ordinating with another arm of the government.”

Matas said it would’ve been helpful if the government template had indicated the letter was just for the purpose of getting out of Afghanistan and not for the purpose of entry into Canada “because it did create confusion.”

Another Winnipeg immigration lawyer said the situation shows how careful advocates must be to ensure their actions benefit refugees.

“It seems Sen. McPhedran’s actions may have, in fact, been a detriment to these Afghans,” Alastair Clarke said.

Moreover, “she may have given them hope that a Canadian senator approved their applications, despite the fact that she does not have the power to make such decisions.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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