Senator wants to make immigration easier for Afghans who helped Canadian troops

Posted by admin on Mar 17th, 2009


Kingston’s senator is calling on the government to help make immigrating to Canada easier for Afghans who have worked with Canadian troops.  Hugh Segal said the country shouldn’t forget those who have aided troops and want to come to Canada once the armed forces leave Afghanistan in 2011.  Those Afghan workers should receive speedy approval to come to Canada based on national security or humanitarian concerns, Segal said.

Doing so would send a message for future military operations that Canadians don’t forget those who help them.

“It is important for us to signal as a country … that we understand that a lot of Afghans have taken a lot of risks to help our forces,” Segal said.

“It’s very important they know we have no intention of leaving them behind.”

Although the proposal from Segal comes two years before the end of the mission, the Conservative senator said the wheels of the federal bureaucracy can move slowly. Having political approval of the proposal now would speed immigration efforts, he said.

At the close of Senate business this week, Segal informed the upper house that he would present a motion urging the government to “develop and implement a program to facilitate the settlement in Canada of Afghan nationals who have helped Canada during our engagement in Afghanistan.”

The motion will make it onto the business agenda when the Senate reconvenes after its March break next week.

The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan use local citizens as translators and links between troops and indigenous organizations. They regularly go beyond the confines of Kandahar Airfield in their work with troops.

Segal said commanding officers in Afghanistan, troops and reservists from Kingston described to him the hospitality and work ethic of the Afghans who aided soldiers.

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“When you hear that from people who’ve been on the ground … you say to yourself, what can I do?” Segal said.

“When you let these opportunities pass, you leave the situation in the hands of what might happen instead of what should happen.”

Those who qualify would not go through the usual immigration tests, Segal said, if the government fast-tracks requests. Civilian staff in Afghanistan would screen those who choose to emigrate.

The Canadian government did something similar following fighting in Kosovo, Segal said. The government brought about 5,000 refugees to the country in the late 1990s.

Segal said he expects bipartisan support for the proposal in the Senate. He added that Defence Minister Peter Mackay had no concerns when Segal approached him about the motion.

A matching private member’s motion will also be presented in the House of Commons, but Segal wouldn’t reveal which MP will bring the motion forward.

Another proposal for which Segal said he expects to receive support from all parties is a motion he will present to erect a statue on Parliament Hill for former prime minister R. B. Bennett.

Statues of dead prime ministers adorn Parliament Hill in Ottawa, but there is a distinct shade of red in their party backgrounds. Segal said statues on Parliament Hill should not favour one party over another.

“It’s always struck me as unfair that we have statues for some prime ministers and not for others,” Segal said. “There’s a whole bunch of Conservative prime ministers that are not recognized on Parliament Hill.”

Bennett, who served as prime minister during the Great Depression, was a former Queen’s University rector who kept ties to the school while in office. During his time as prime minister, he laid the foundation for many of the social services that are now helping those without work.

He also developed the national wheat board, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Bank of Canada.

“History is not, in my view, a dead part of the past,” Segal said. “This [statue] is not a huge expenditure.”

The last statues erected on Parliament Hill came under the Brian Mulroney government – Conservative John Diefenbaker and Liberal Lester B. Pearson.

“As a former prime minister who served with determination and intense loyalty to the public interest, [Bennett] deserves a statue on Parliament Hill.”

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