Canada should do the right thing and bring Afghan interpreters to our land

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on August 20, 2018

I may not be a military expert and I am certainly not as knowledgeable as Scott Taylor, whose column often appears right above mine in The Hill Times, but I am pretty sure that whenever an army deploys abroad it relies a lot on local assistance.  Assuming of course that army is not one of occupation in which it would be completely normal for residents not to pony up any help.  Without the familiarity of those who live there whatever mission is planned must be that much harder to achieve.

So what happens when the ‘visitors’ leave?  What happens to those who worked for or alongside them?  I suppose it depends on the conditions under which the departure of the forces happens.  Those conditions can vary widely, anywhere from ‘mission accomplished’ to ‘let’s get the hell out of here’.  If the former those left behind are probably ok: if the latter, not so much.

Which brings us to the situation in Afghanistan.  In my humble opinion, the current state is much closer to the ‘let’s get the hell out of here’ side of the scale than ‘mission accomplished’, whatever that means.  I suppose that Afghanistan is a functioning polity, but just.  Violence as expressed through acts of terrorism are a daily occurrence.  The Taliban are still a force to be reckoned with, so much so that they are being considered by the US government in some kind of peace arrangement.  An Islamic State affiliate is wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country (just the other day IS threats forced officials in Nangarhar province to close universities) and, to make things even more complicated, the Taliban and IS are killing each other in a battle for dominance of the terrorist roost.  As if all that were not enough, the Ghani administration is facing  revolts within Afghan political players as a power sharing proposal is  making waves.  It does make you wonder what we have actually done over 17 years.

Canada may not be in Afghanistan anymore but a handful of people who helped us still are.  Men who served as interpreters for our military between 2005 and 2011 are now in grave peril for what they did and for whom they did it.  They are considered traitors by some in Afghanistan and  hence they and their families are at risk of retribution.  Some are seeking to come to Canada and safety and the best reply that the Department of Immigration can give is “No special measures for Afghan interpreters are planned at this time.”

Seriously?  We cannot accelerate the immigration process for these people who put their lives on the line for us?  According to a recent estimate, we are talking about ten men.  Ten.  Not a hundred, not a thousand.  Ten.  Plus their families I imagine.  And the government cannot assign a person to facilitate this?  I know I have been out of the civil service for a few years now but surely this can be done, and done quickly.

In a summer where Canadians are vastly overreacting to our immigration ‘crisis’ vis-a-vis the irregular migrants fleeing the gong show that is Trump’s America, I imagine that anything to do with newcomers is a sensitive issue with the Trudeau government.  Nevertheless, there are two arguments in favour of bringing these interpreters here:

a) the immigration ‘crisis’ is anything but.  A few thousand migrants may be straining current resources and may pose an administrative challenge but a few thousand in a population of 37 million does not constitute a crisis.  Yes, let’s figure out a way to deal with this better but let’s not lose our sanity over it.

b) these men are in danger because we put them there.  They deserve our protection.

Being a Canadian means being compassionate and doing the right thing.  Allowing these Afghan interpreters to come here fits both bills.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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