Joly denied visa to political operative from China last fall


The Liberal government has introduced legislation to amend the Criminal Code’s terrorism provisions that have prevented Canadian humanitarian aid from reaching Afghanistan.

Public Safety Secretary Marco Mendicino proposes amendments to the Criminal Code that would allow Canadian auxiliaries to carry out duties in terrorist-controlled areas without prosecution.

The new law, introduced on Thursday, would allow aid workers to apply for a five-year waiver to help people in crisis “in a geographic area controlled by a terrorist group.”

Humanitarian groups say Global Affairs Canada warned them more than a year ago that buying goods or hiring local people in Afghanistan would entail paying taxes to the Taliban, which the law classifies as contributing to a terrorist group would.

The problem crippled attempts by aid workers to reach the country, as even highway tolls and airport landing fees benefited the Taliban.

After the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, Canada’s allies acted much faster to change national laws and issue exceptions to ensure aid workers could continue working in Afghanistan.

Ottawa has helped fund the United Nations’ efforts on the ground, but Canada’s aid sector says it is excruciating not to be part of the response to widespread malnutrition, an erratic cold winter and the sale of daughters to help families to afford basic goods.

Groups like World Vision Canada say they have held back from appeals for funds because of the rules, even though Afghanistan is one of the countries most likely to have Canadians pledge money.

The exceptions outlined in the newly filed bill C-41 would allow for “providing or assisting in the delivery of humanitarian assistance” as well as health care, education, “programs to assist individuals in earning a living”, promotion of human rights and assistance with resettlement People.

Federal officials said during a technical briefing that an organization can apply for a permit for all of its activities, rather than requiring separate permits for individual volunteers. They said there was no timetable for how quickly exception requests could be processed.

The cabinet would also grant the exemptions if there is a risk that a terrorist group will attempt to seize goods or otherwise benefit from it, officials said, if the benefits of the activity outweigh that risk. The decision would be based on a safety assessment or risk mitigation measures.

These proposed exemptions would apply to both Canadians abroad and Canadian residents. The minister could revoke the exemptions at will, and the bill prohibits anyone who is or may be involved in a terrorist group from granting an exemption.

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According to the legislation, annual reports from the Minister on the use of such exemptions in the previous calendar year would be due annually in July. The minister’s decisions would also be subject to judicial review.

Mendicino is expected to hold a press conference later Thursday at the Canadian Red Cross headquarters in Ottawa.

The NDP is asking Ottawa to prioritize legislation.

“While this bill comes 18 months late, the New Democrats will be looking closely at this bill and working to ensure Canadian organizations have the tools they need to finally resume their lifesaving work in Afghanistan,” the foreign policy critic said Heather McPherson said in a statement.

“This legislation and the resulting considerations must be prioritized to ensure that more lives are not lost as a result of Canadian government inaction.”

Secretary of State Melanie Joly confirmed on Thursday that Canada rejected a diplomatic visa application from a Chinese politician last fall over concerns about foreign interference – and said she would not hesitate to expel diplomats for the same reason.

“I have directed my department never to shy away from refusing a visa when it comes to a political agent affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party,” Joly told the House Procedures and Affairs Committee, which is investigating the alleged Foreign election interference in 2019 examines 2021 general election.

“It’s the right thing.”

Faced with a barrage of questions from opposition members of Parliament, Joly laid out the tools used by the Canadian government to combat foreign interference in response to questions about recent allegations of Chinese interference.

She told MPs it was easier to discourage people from engaging in foreign interference by preventing them from coming into the country rather than monitoring them when they are already in Canada.

However, she said diplomats working in Canada could also be expelled if there was evidence under the Vienna Convention – a United Nations code of international diplomacy – that they had engaged in interference.

“If we have any clear evidence of wrongdoing, we send diplomats off very, very, very quickly,” she said.

Amid Conservative MPs’ criticism of Canada’s failure to expel such actors, Joly said her political opponents were looking for a “simple solution” that could prompt the expulsion of Canadian diplomats from China in retaliation and endanger Canadians living abroad .

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Joly said Canadian diplomats were instrumental in bringing Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig home in September 2021 after being held by China for more than 1,000 days.

“More than ever we need capacities. We need eyes and ears on site. We must be able to take into account national interests that we have in our bilateral relations. And I’m very concerned about the protection of Canadians abroad,” the minister said.

“We have to be committed to protecting these people. It’s something that keeps me up at night and that’s why we have capacity in Beijing.”

Joly echoed the comments of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is under intense scrutiny over the issue of foreign interference, and has responded by accusing Conservatives of politicizing national security.

“If you fall into too much partisanship, we fall into China’s trap,” she said.

Tensions between federal parties rose throughout the week, with the Liberals dedicating several meetings to a widespread filibuster as the government faced mounting pressure.

On Thursday, during intense questioning, Conservative MP Michael Cooper quipped to Joly: “You spoke harshly to your counterpart in Beijing, you say. They even stared him in the eye. I’m sure he was very intimidated.”

Several MPs on the committee accused him of being inappropriate, with Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell calling the comments “demeaning”. After the meeting, NDP MP Rachel Blaney told reporters it was downright “sexist”. Cooper did not apologize during the committee hearing.

During a separate session of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, former Conservative Secretary of State John Baird said the Liberals face a bigger challenge with China than Stephen Harper’s government.

“China has demonstrably changed in recent years,” Baird said. “Obviously, the policies they pursued were demonstrably more of a challenge.”

He noted that the Harper administration “had a somewhat rough relationship with China” but could find some grounds for cooperation with Beijing.

Baird said the Trudeau government made things even more difficult for itself prior to the imprisonment of Spavor and Kovrig.

He cited an abrupt change in Canada’s approach to trade negotiations, with the Liberal government asserting more aggressively progressive values; the 2018 decision to block a Chinese takeover of construction company Aecon on national security grounds; and language in the new free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, which effectively freezes the option for a trade deal with China.

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“However, this is nothing new for Canada. Some days people are better friends and allies, and that can change very quickly, as it has over the decades,” Baird said.

Federal efforts to combat foreign interference have increased after Trudeau announced new measures earlier this week.

In a statement, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians said it would investigate the status of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes since 2018.

This continues work done on the previous review of the government’s response to foreign interference, which covered the period 2015-2018.

It will also consider former State Official Morris Rosenberg’s independent report on federal protocol to monitor foreign interference attempts during the last general election.

Chaired by Liberal MP David McGuinty, the committee plans to consult other review bodies to avoid duplication as it develops its terms of reference for the latest review.

“Foreign interference and influence have been identified as significant threats to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and Canadian society,” McGuinty said in the statement.

“The committee recognizes the importance of maintaining the integrity of our institutions and looks forward to building on its previous review of the government’s response to foreign interference.”

Earlier this week, Trudeau called on the National Security Committee and another spy watchdog, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, to investigate foreign interference amid recent concerns about possible Chinese interference in the last two federal elections.

The government also plans to appoint an “Outstanding Canadian” with a broad mandate on the issue. The independent rapporteur is responsible for reporting on the work of NSIRA and NSICOP and any other existing processes and investigations that may be conducted by bodies such as the Canadian Elections Commissioner.

The rapporteur will make public recommendations that could involve a formal inquiry or other independent review process, and the government said it will follow the guidance.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a briefing on Wednesday that China is always opposed to interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

“We have no interest and will not interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” she said. “It is absurd that some in Canada would make a problem with China based on disinformation and lies.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2023.

— With files by Dylan Robertson.


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