Legislation to support humanitarian aid to vulnerable Afghans receives Royal Assent
June 23, 2023
Canada has a deep and longstanding commitment to the people of Afghanistan. In the face of a unique and dire situation, Canada’s Criminal Code needed changes to allow international assistance, most importantly humanitarian aid, to reach vulnerable Afghans. Newly passed legislation will enable Canadian organizations to deliver this assistance, while maintaining our strong anti-terrorism laws and protections.
The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety, today announced that legislation to facilitate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan – as well as immigration activities and other government operations – has received Royal Assent and is now in effect. Bill C-41, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, makes important changes to the Criminal Code to allow desperately needed aid to be delivered by Canadian organizations in Afghanistan, as well as and other geographic areas controlled by a terrorist group.
At present, the Criminal Code’s anti-terrorist financing provisions inadvertently place significant constraints on the delivery of assistance. The new legislation addresses this by providing an exception for the delivery of humanitarian assistance by impartial humanitarian organizations operating under international law in geographic areas controlled by terrorist groups, including Afghanistan. Those who receive an authorization (and respect its terms) are shielded from the risk of criminal liability when carrying out authorized activities. Stringent measures to prevent any financing from reaching terrorist groups remain in place.
The authorization regime provides for a wider range of activities, including health services, education, assisting individuals in earning a livelihood, promoting human rights, and conducting immigration activities like the resettlement and the safe passage of refugees. Stakeholder briefings to provide details on implementation of the authorization regime will follow in the coming weeks.
These changes to the Criminal Code support Canada’s deep commitment to the people of Afghanistan, while upholding our domestic and international obligations to combat terrorism. We are joining our allies in fulfilling obligations contained in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2615 by facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in Afghanistan while ensuring that authorized activities are not under risk of criminal liability.
“Canada’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan did not end with the fall of Kabul. Whether providing aid or welcoming refugees, we are there for vulnerable Afghans – while always strongly condemning the Taliban’s violence, misogyny and disregard for human rights. This legislation ensures we can keep making good on our commitment, while respecting Canadian law and standing strong against terrorism.”
- The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety
“Millions of people in Afghanistan are facing a terrible humanitarian disaster. We have also witnessed the steady deterioration of democracy, human rights, education and health in the country. The Royal Assent of C-41 means that urgent help will continue to reach those who need it most and that Afghans can restart to build a better future for themselves.”
-The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada
“New measures remove a key barrier to supporting the safe passage of Afghans who are seeking to escape war and start anew in Canada. By easing the constraints on organizations that provide vital support, we are able to substantially increase our efforts in ensuring safety and humanitarian aid for thousands of individuals. We look forward to having more Afghans join the more than 33,000 vulnerable Afghans who have already made Canada their new home as we work towards welcoming at least 40,000 by the end of this year.”
- The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
“With the Royal Assent of Bill C-41, our Government is strengthening its commitment to help vulnerable persons in Afghanistan. These Criminal Code amendments will enable important humanitarian and immigration activities, while continuing to protect people in Canada through some of the most robust anti-terror laws in the world.”
- The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
According to the United Nations’ 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan, there are unprecedented levels of need amongst ordinary women, men and children of Afghanistan with two thirds of the population affected.
According to the UN, a total of 28.8 million people (two thirds of the Afghan population) need humanitarian assistance in 2023, an increase of 18% since 2022. Over 15 million people are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 4 million children and pregnant and lactating women in Afghanistan are facing acute malnutrition. Women and girls are deprived of access to education, employment, and even the most basic human rights.
In June 2022, the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan issued its report, Honouring Canada’s Legacy in Afghanistan: Responding to the Humanitarian Crisis and Helping People Reach Safety, which detailed the humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan and the challenges in bringing Afghan nationals to safety who are at risk. Recommendation 10 of the report called for the Government of Canada to ensure that Canadian organizations have the clarity and assurances needed to deliver international assistance without fear of prosecution for violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws, while Recommendation 11 advised that the Government of Canada review its anti-terrorist financing provisions and urgently take legislative steps to ensure they do not restrict legitimate international assistance. Recommendation 4 of the Senate Interim Report on Canada’s Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan similarly called for the creation of an explicit humanitarian exemption to the Criminal Code. The changes made to the Criminal Code are consistent with the Special Committee’s recommendations.
Since August 2021, the Government of Canada has announced $156 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. This assistance is being administered through experienced humanitarian organizations such as United Nations agencies to provide assistance including food, nutrition, medical care, and water, sanitation and hygiene.
Giving Canadian organizations the clarity they need so that they are shielded from criminal liability in meeting humanitarian needs on the ground and carrying out certain other forms of development and other forms of assistance including health services, education services, livelihoods, human rights programming, and immigration including resettlement and safe passage, will be fundamental in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.
In addition, in 2022/23, Canada also provided over $70 million in support to basic services, including health services, to the Afghan people.
The Government of Canada’s goal to bring at least 40,000 Afghan nationals to Canada by the end of 2023 is unwavering and is one of the largest commitments of any country in the world. This commitment includes an emphasis on individuals who supported Canada and our allies over the past two decades, many of whom remain in Afghanistan, as well as vulnerable Afghans such as women leaders, LGBTQI+ people, human rights defenders, journalists and members of religious and ethnic minorities. Since August 2021, over 33,000 Afghans have arrived and now call Canada home.
For the fourth year in a row, Canada has resettled more refugees than anywhere else in the world, and the United Nations Refugee Agency has recognized Canada as a world leader in our approach to the settlement and integration of newcomers.
Canada’s 2001 Anti-terrorism Act created anti-terrorist financing offences in the Criminal Code to meet Canada’s international legal obligations to combat terrorism. These included the offence of directly or indirectly providing or making property available knowing it will be used by or will benefit a terrorist group, which has now been amended to provide coverage for international assistance.
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