Debating Canada's role in Afghanistan
(text of Peggy's participation in the debate on Canada's role in Afghanistan, April 10, 2022)

Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP): Mr. Chair, I am privileged to stand in the House as a new member of Parliament and participate in this important debate on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

When we send our citizens, our young sons and daughters, in harm's way, we want to be assured of the nature of the mission and the goals to which they offer their courage and sacrifice. As the parent of three sons, I know all parents believe their children are precious. That is why their fate should be decided only with the respect of a full debate in the House of Commons.

Previous speakers have described the positive role of Canadian troops in the rebuilding in Afghanistan, specifically in defending and promoting women's equality. This, of course, is a worthy goal. The oppression of women in Afghanistan has probably been more extreme than in any other country in the world. Promoting women's equality is a worthy goal but I question whether the war on terrorism, as originally designed south of the border, was really a struggle for women's rights and the dignity of Afghan women. I did not hear that in the public debates at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, but it is still a worthy goal.

In my riding of Parkdale--High Park, there is an organization called the Afghan Women's Organization. It is a decades-old organization assisting Afghan women in Canada by addressing their particular needs. Many of them came to Canada as refugees and their needs have been quite extreme. I will say that they spoke positively to me about Canada's peacekeeping role in helping to stabilize and rebuild in Afghanistan. They affirmed that this assistance was sorely needed in such a wartorn country but they echoed what humanitarian organizations around the world are saying, that when troops blur the lines between humanitarian aid and reconstruction and offensive military action, they not only endanger themselves as troops, they endanger aid workers whom they are presumably trying to protect.

It is of course confusing for Afghans. They want the rebuilding to take place but the person in uniform might have a shovel in his or her hand one minute and a gun the next, one minute offering medical assistance and the next minute taking a life. Contrary to what a previous member said, of course rebuilding needs security in order to conduct its work, but the blurring of the lines between security and peacekeeping in aggressive military action is a troubling and dangerous development. We may well be disrespecting our troops by placing them in harm's way in this fashion.

Afghan women also raised serious concerns about the growing lawlessness in Afghanistan. In rural areas, where 85% of the population lives, women fear roving militaristic groups which are increasingly wreaking violence upon them. They said that in some areas it has been even worse than during the times of the Taliban. I spoke to women parliamentarians from Afghanistan who spoke about the routine death threats that they face when they speak about women's rights.

We have heard many important questions here tonight that have not received adequate answers. Some argue that we should only engage in boosterism here tonight. I do not agree. Why is this democratic debate a sign of failure? On the contrary, surely it is a sign of the strength of our democracy and either we believe in the purpose of this House or we do not. Debate is healthy and does not equal a lack of support for our military. A censure of debate is dangerous and not worthy of this House.

Since the former Liberal government got us into this U.S.-led operation enduring freedom, we are being told today that we need to finish what we started. Some Canadian soldiers tragically have already given their lives. Could the government please tell us when our military will finally leave this U.S.-led operation and instead become part of a NATO-led mission with which we could all feel more comfortable?

Mr. Mike Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac, CPC): Mr. Chair, I have patiently listened to attempts by my colleagues to my right, the political left, trying to convince us of the fact that they support our troops in Afghanistan. However, in question after question, answer after answer, comment after comment, we hear references to reviewing the rules of engagement, disclosing exit strategies and asking how long the mission will last. The Taliban would love to have those answers.

I heard reference to our troops being involved in war making. I just heard the member saying something about not placing troops in harm's way. It is not surprising that Canadians are puzzled by the NDP position in this attempt to provide democracy building in Afghanistan.

We also heard that somewhere along the line the NDP wants a vote on this issue. I want to tell my colleagues to my right, the political left, that in fact UN supported missions such as ours are not like some reality shows where we can vote someone off the island every week. Helping the people of Afghanistan build a democracy is serious business and it is not something for fickle minds.

Will the member and her party today affirm their clear and unambiguous support for our mission in Afghanistan and for the brave men and women of our armed forces?

Ms. Peggy Nash: Mr. Chair, I caution the hon. member on his recklessness with other people's lives.

I will say that the questions we are asking here this evening are the same questions that ministers have asked before and which members of his party have asked in the previous government, including the leader of his party. There should not be a McCarthy-like pledge that needs to take place before someone can have a healthy debate in the House. We can support our sons and daughters, and our troops and not want to place them recklessly in a mission that is under U.S. command without a vote in the House.

Hon. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Lib.): Mr. Chair, I have a news flash for the member across the way. First, this is a NATO-led UN-backed mission in which our troops are involved.

I have another news flash for her. How on earth will our aid workers protect civilians, enable people to go to school and enable the Afghani people to have an economy if they are not protected and do not have the security on the ground to do the job? The milk of human kindness is not flowing through the veins of everybody in Afghanistan, especially not the Taliban and particularly not al-Qaeda.

How on earth will our CIDA workers, RCMP officers and foreign affairs workers enable the Afghani people to build an economy, democratic institutions, health care institutions and schools and protect the rights of women, children and men in that country if they do not have the security on the ground and our troops cannot provide it? How will they do that?

Ms. Peggy Nash: Mr. Chair, let me say that if the hon. member in asking that question does not see a contradiction between someone providing security for an aid worker and that same soldier in an aggressive military mission also providing aid and rebuilding, then I guess I cannot explain it any clearer.

As a news flash, this is not a NATO-led mission as his own party knows well, because of course that is the party that got us into this U.S. led mission.