The federal Liberal government tabled a bill Thursday that would tweak Canada’s terrorism financing laws to allow foreign aid organizations to provide support in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and other terrorism hotspots.

The change comes after Canadian charities and other non-governmental organizations largely suspended their activities in Afghanistan because of the Criminal Code provisions that essentially prohibit them from operating there.

These organizations often have to pay taxes or fees to operate in the country — funding that is now collected by the Taliban, which controls Afghanistan.

Under the current law, these NGOs could be held criminally liable for materially supporting a terrorist entity. Charities say that the law has a chilling effect on life-saving aid work.

The proposed changes in the government’s legislation, Bill C-41, would allow aid groups to apply for an exemption to the law so they can deliver humanitarian assistance and do other work, such as facilitating the passage of Afghan refugees to Canada.

Canada has committed to resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees. A number of would-be refugees have had trouble leaving the country without access to support from aid workers who can help with translation, paperwork and access to safe travel arrangements.

Under the proposed changes, which must clear Parliament before being enacted, an aid organization could apply to the government to do work in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Under the proposed legislation, an organization must detail what sort of activities it plans to carry out. The government would then complete a “security assessment” and the minister of public safety would make the final call on whether the work could proceed as planned in Afghanistan, or in any other area controlled by a terrorist group.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the decision to loosen the rules should not be read as an endorsement of the Taliban, which will remain a listed terrorist group under Canadian law.

He said the Taliban had shown “a wanton disregard for human rights” and had perpetrated “shameful and violent transgressions,” particularly against Afghan women and girls.

The changes announced Thursday simply empower Canadian civil society to help people legally who are suffering from the Taliban’s abuses, Mendicino said.

“It is no exaggeration that lives hang in the balance,” he told a press conference at the Canadian Red Cross headquarters in Ottawa.

“This bill meets the urgency of the moment, giving NGOs the flexibility they need to help those in need in Afghanistan.”

The ongoing suspension of charitable activities has made an already dire situation in war-torn Afghanistan even worse.

According to federal government data, 28.3 million people — or two thirds of Afghanistan’s population — are in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s a 16 per cent increase since 2022.

Millions of Afghans are dealing with drought, acute food shortages and a breakdown in health services. All of these problems were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aid-dependent country has not been fully served by groups like World Vision Canada, which are eager to provide essential resources and supplies to the region’s most at-risk, including women and girls.

C-41 would allow groups to provide assistance — food, shelter, hygiene and health services, education, programs to support earning a livelihood (such as agricultural training), human rights programming and immigration services.

By zonxe