People participate in a rally calling on the Canadian government to evacuate the families of interpreters and locally employed civilians who supported the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan as they are being targeted by the Taliban, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on August 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

‘Troubling lack of transparency’ from Ottawa on Afghan refugees: advocate

‘Troubling lack of transparency’ from Ottawa on Afghan refugees: advocate

OTTAWA — The federal government should be more clear about who is included in its evacuation plans from Afghanistan, said the founder of a national advocacy campaign to bring interpreters and local staff to Canada.

Andrew Rusk, who is the brother-in-law of Capt. Nichola Goddard who died in Afghanistan in 2006 and was the first woman Canadian soldier to die in combat, said the government should reveal how many Afghan refugees were on a plane that landed in Toronto Wednesday.

The flight marked the first arrival of refugees who supported the Canadian military and diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. More planes carrying Afghans who contributed to Canada’s mission are expected to arrive soon.

“We’ve seen a troubling lack of transparency from the government on who is included versus who is not, as well as the lack of transparency on who was included on the flight yesterday,” Rusk said Thursday.

“In order to ensure that all Afghans that are currently experiencing threats of violence or direct violence themselves are safe, the government owes Canadians a clear explanation of who’s included, and they owe Afghan families a clear explanation of who was included as well.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government won’t share details on the numbers and whereabouts of Afghan refugees to protect the evacuees and the security of the operation.

Speaking to a virtual news conference Thursday, he said the government is dealing with urgent and volatile circumstances in Afghanistan as the international coalition forces led by the United States continue to withdraw from the country and the Taliban gain ground.

Rusk said the security of the operation is important but not disclosing the numbers of Afghan refugees who have arrived and those who will arrive later is not consistent with what the U.S. government is doing.

Washington announced last week that about 200 Afghan interpreters and their families have arrived in the U.S.

“It’s not clear why our approach to security is inconsistent with the United States interpretation of security,” Rusk said.

He said his group has identified more than 700 families that have members who supported the Canadian operation in Afghanistan.

“If you include locally employed staff and contractors, especially contractors that work for NATO where they support Canada, but also other countries and they’re in a bit of a bureaucratic no man’s land right now, the total number could be significantly higher than that.”