Canada is amending anti-terrorism law to legalise humanitarian aid to Afghanistan

The Canadian government has proposed a new legislation to amend the country’s anti-terrorism law which has been preventing humanitarian aid from reaching Afghanistan. 

The Bill C-41 tabled last Thursday by the Canadian government’s Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendicino, will allow Canadian aid workers to work in areas controlled by terrorist organisations, including the Taliban, which is categorized as such under Canadian law.

Under the new amendment, Canadian aid workers can apply for a five-year exemption which will enable them to work in areas controlled by terrorist groups. 

Over a year ago, Canadian humanitarian organisations and aid workers were warned by the Canadian government that working in and employing workers in Afghanistan would require them to pay taxes to the Taliban, which, under current Canadian law, would be deemed as aiding a terrorist group.

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Since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, which led to the collapse of the Afghan economy and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with over 28 million people depending on aid for survival, international aid organisations have been the main source of support for most people in the country. However, Canadian aid organisations were unable to participate in working in Afghanistan.

The exemptions under the new law would allow for providing or supporting the provision of humanitarian assistance, health care, education, programs to assist individuals in earning a livelihood, promoting human rights, and helping to resettle people. 

According to the Canadian government, an organisation could apply for one permit to cover all of its activities, instead of requiring separate ones for individual aid workers.

The proposal is being supported by The New Democratic Party (NDP), which has called for it to be prioritized. 

Heather McPherson, an NDP MP said:

“While this legislation comes 18 months too late, New Democrats will take a close look at this bill and work to ensure that Canadian organizations will have the tools they need to finally restart their life-saving work in Afghanistan.

“This legislation, and the resulting deliberations, must be prioritized to ensure more lives are not lost (as) the result of the Canadian government’s inaction.”