Bloc Québécois MPs are calling on the federal government to open an investigation into an attempted rescue mission of Afghan Sikhs during the fall of Kabul, which was launched at the request of then-Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

“As the situation was critical in August 2021 … the thought that the minister of Defense would have willingly decided to abandon Canadians or Afghans having helped Canada to prioritize other religious or ethnic groups is revolting,” wrote Bloc MPs Christine Normandin and Stéphane Bergeron in a June 28 letter.

The letter asking for an investigation is addressed to Defense Minister Bill Blair and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.

It came in response to a story from The Globe and Mail published a day earlier based on anonymous military sources. The sources said limited resources that could have been used to extract Canadians or allies were diverted to help individuals with no connection to Canada.

Mr. Sajjan, who currently holds the emergency preparedness portfolio, criticized the Globe’s characterization of the situation while speaking to reporters on June 27.

The minister said it was an “approved government policy” to rescue vulnerable Afghans, including religious minorities like Sikhs and Hindus. “I didn’t think I’d be getting those questions if I wasn’t wearing a turban,” Mr. Sajjan added.

The rescue mission sought to extract about 225 Afghan Sikhs, according to the Globe. Mr. Sajjan said he was acting as a relay between an NGO and the military to locate and extract them.

“I provided direction to the Canadian Armed Forces, through the appropriate chain of command, to assist the group of Afghan Sikhs who had been determined eligible for evacuation from Kabul through the process underway at IRCC [Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada],” Mr. Sajjan said in a statement.

Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre said the military was following “legal direction and the groups that were listed were part of … approved groups, so we got on with it.”
The Canadian government had announced on Aug. 13, 2021, that it was expanding its resettlement program to focus on vulnerable groups such as religious minorities.


Following the fall of the Afghan capital, the Canadian government said it had managed to evacuate 3,700 individuals. These included citizens and permanent residents and their family members, citizens of allied nations, individuals with a lasting connection to Canada, and Afghan nationals deemed at risk who would be resettled in Canada or elsewhere.

Gen. Eyre told the House of Commons Afghanistan committee in May 2022 that some Afghans who were not on an IRCC or Global Affairs Canada list were airlifted out by the Canadian military.

He said personnel on the ground “made decisions at times to take Afghans who weren’t on the list because they were part of a vulnerable community or there was sufficient evidence to believe that, yes, there was some link with Canada.”

Around 2,000 of the 3,700 individuals extracted were Afghan. Meanwhile, about 1,250 Canadian citizens and permanent residents and their family members were left stranded, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said at the time.

The Bloc MPs asking for an investigation say that if Ministers Blair and Joly do not take action, other means will be used to shed light on the events. This could include pushing for a study in a House committee.

“Whether the minister gave the order for this evacuation operation or whether it was the result of communication problems, one or the other measures need to be taken to prevent this from reoccurring,” wrote Ms. Normandin and Mr. Bergeron.

Other opposition parties have not stated their position on the matter so far.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not specifically address the report when asked to comment on June 27, criticizing instead the larger Canadian evacuation efforts which he called a “failure.”

Tory defense critic MP James Bezan also criticized the government’s handling of the evacuation, and said if a motion is brought before a House committee to study the matter Conservatives will “give it appropriate and due consideration.”

The Canadian Press and Reuters contributed to this report.