The Criminal Code blocks Canadian humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan

Plus, below: Leading Canadian aid organizations jointly launch Aid for Afghanistan campaign

In the midst of one of the most dire humanitarian crises the world has ever seen, Canada’s support is barely evident, despite Canadian humanitarian organizations being at the ready. Since the Taliban takeover of power in August 2021, Canadian anti-terror legislation – section 83.03 of the Criminal Code – has barred humanitarian organizations from implementing Canadian-funded programs in Afghanistan.

The Criminal Code provision has severely hindered public and private funding from Canada to support Afghanistan. Consequently, millions of dollars already committed by the Canadian government as well as donations made by individual Canadians towards efforts in Afghanistan are not reaching those in need. This must be addressed immediately.

One barrier to the flow of this critical, humanitarian funding is essentially just a banking issue. The accounts through which import and employment taxes are duly paid are the same accounts into which new funding would flow. The fear is that this provides the Taliban government with access to those tax revenues. Yet other nations have found a way to address this risk to ensure assistance is provided to Afghans – why can’t Canada?

There are currently more than 24.4 million Afghans in dire need – more than 75 per cent of those urgently awaiting humanitarian assistance are women and children. In January 2022, the UN launched the largest single country aid appeal in history to support the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Similarly, every other major donor including Germany, the US and UK has made exemptions to allow critical aid to continue flowing. While the world leans in to support the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, Canadian organizations (who are ready to provide immediate support) are unable to do so due to legal barriers unique to Canada.

The situation in Afghanistan is only getting worse since the Taliban assumed power. Food, shelter and illness are ongoing struggles for millions of families in Afghanistan with women and children facing the greatest need. World Vision Canada recently released an article highlighting the current situation in Afghanistan including:

A coalition of humanitarian organizations is urging Canada to meet its obligation to respect and support adherence to International Humanitarian Law principles, which include the unimpeded provision of humanitarian assistance in situations of conflict. Furthermore, in accordance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2615 (2021), which provides for a humanitarian carveout for sanctions against the Taliban and designated individuals and entities, Canada shall no longer impede or limit humanitarian activities or financial transactions in support of those activities in Afghanistan by Canadian organizations.

What CanWaCH members are saying:

“We urge Canada to take whatever steps are necessary to allow Canadian humanitarian assistance to flow to those in need. The UN Security Council resolved in December that aid to Afghanistan should flow even in the face of anti-terrorism sanctions, but Canada is out of step.” Michael Messenger, World Vision Canada

“The humanitarian imperative to respond is clear, with concurrent crises leading up to the takeover, and escalating dramatically since then. Yet humanitarian organizations like CARE Canada are unable to respond. We urge Canada to pursue all innovative solutions that allow Canadian humanitarian organizations to resume programs in Afghanistan, in the short and long terms.” Barbara Grantham, CARE Canada

“We are ready to work with Canada, as we are today working with other international and local partners to advance this work, but we face significant barriers. One is the general banking crisis that is restricting funding flows in economic activity in the country. Another is the barrier that is specifically preventing Canada, both the government and other Canadian actors, to mount the kind of response that our values and track record in Afghanistan demand” – Khalil Shariff, Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

Quick Facts:

  • In January 2022, the UN and its partners announced a massive initiative to raise $4.4 billion in funds for the response in Afghanistan for 2022. It’s the largest-ever appeal for a single country.
  • Canada has a long history of providing assistance to and working with changing circumstances in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Canada has provided a total of $3.6 billion in international assistance to Afghanistan focused on education, health, and human rights and the rights of Afghan women and girls.
  • As of February 2022, more than half of the population of Afghanistan (18 million people) is dependent on life-saving and essential assistance. For children it is even worse, with two in three – or more than 13 million – children in Afghanistan in desperate need of life-saving aid. That’s an increase of more than a third since the start of 2021.
  • The June 2022 Report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan provides numerous recommendations aligned with that of Canadian CSOs including:
    • Recommendation 6: That the Government of Canada ensure, as part of its response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, that Global Affairs Canada supports trusted organizations whose primary focus is vulnerable populations, while also ensuring that its humanitarian assistance is reaching the most vulnerable populations in Afghanistan–of all ages, abilities, genders, ethnicities and religions–on the basis of need.
    • Recommendation 9: That the Government of Canada act immediately to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2615.
    • Recommendation 10: That the Government of Canada act immediately to ensure that registered Canadian organizations have the clarity and assurances needed–such as carve-outs or exemptions–to deliver humanitarian assistance and meet basic needs in Afghanistan without fear of prosecution for violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.
    • Recommendation 11: That the Government of Canada review the anti-terrorism financing provisions under the Criminal Code and urgently take any legislative steps necessary to ensure those provisions do not unduly restrict legitimate humanitarian action that complies with international humanitarian principles and law.

Aid to Afghanistan can’t wait: Leading Canadian aid organizations jointly launch Aid for Afghanistan campaign

Ottawa, ON, Aug. 10, 2022/CNW/ – Leading Canadian aid organizations have jointly launched Aid for Afghanistan, a national campaign that is calling on the Government of Canada to immediately act to remove barriers that have blocked and deterred the provision of lifesaving humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan for the past year.

Conflict, extreme drought, and the COVID-19 pandemic have converged on the people of Afghanistan, with close to 23 million people in need of humanitarian support. Since the Taliban takeover a year ago, Canadian aid organizations have faced barriers in sending aid to Afghanistan due to Canadian sanctions and a restrictive interpretation of the Canadian Criminal Code’s Anti-Terrorism provisions.

While Canadian allies – including the United States, the UK, the EU, and Australia – have already taken steps to clarify the non-applicability of sanctions and anti-terrorism laws to the provision of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, Canada continues to block humanitarian agencies from providing critical support in Afghanistan free from the fear of facing criminal prosecution.

For the past year, Canadian aid organizations have been pleading with the Government of Canada to remove barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance. With the support of UN Security Council resolutions 2615 and 2626, we ask the Government of Canada to ensure that sanctions and counter-terror finance and criminal law restrictions do not impede the provision of lifesaving humanitarian aid.

The Aid for Afghanistan campaign seeks to garner support from Canadians from coast to coast to demand immediate action in allowing Canadian organizations to help Afghan families in extremely vulnerable situations. 

Canada’s Aid for Afghanistan campaign’s hope is to demonstrate the widespread support among Canadians for the provision of aid and to mount additional public pressure on elected officials for the government to finally act in accordance with international law and our allies in supporting Afghan people in desperate need. need. It also hopes to address a long-standing issue of ensuring that anti-terrorism laws and sanctions do not interfere with humanitarian assistance.


“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is dire. Conflict, climate change and COVID-19 have created a triple blow against the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan, resulting in an unprecedented hunger crisis. Current and Canadian restrictions on humanitarian assistance following the Taliban takeover have compromised our ability to help. For example, we recently had two containers of ready-to-use therapeutic food set to go to Afghanistan – enough for about 1,800 children – but the shipment had to be canceled because of these unnecessary restrictions. It’s time for Canada to take action by decriminalizing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to save lives before it is too late.” – Asuntha Charles, National Director, World Vision Afghanistan

Our teams on the ground are relaying to us the horrific humanitarian crises unfolding. We’ve met with mothers who had to marry off their daughters so that they can have food. For a country like Canada, it is unacceptable that for almost a year now we haven’t seen action from the government – Reyhana Patel, Director of Communications and Government Relations at Islamic Relief Canada

“Location should not make a difference when it comes to providing impartial and neutral humanitarian aid to people impacted by a crisis. The situation in Afghanistan is dire, and it is imperative for aid organizations to be allowed to help people in need. The current barriers to aid in Afghanistan by Canada block principle, lifesaving humanitarian aid from reaching people – mostly women and children – who are in desperate need of help. Canada needs to find a way to allow for aid to reach people living in Afghanistan. A year is too long to wait.” Amy Avis, General Counsel, Canadian Red Cross

​​Quick facts

  • Canadians wishing to join the efforts to find a solution and provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to people in Afghanistan can visit between August 10 and 26 to write to their political representatives and encourage their friends and family to join them using #aidforafghanistan.
  • The coalition of Canadian organizations partnering for the Aid for Afghanistan campaign include the Canadian Red Cross, CARE, Save the Children, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, World Vision, Islamic Relief Canada, Action Against Hunger, Equality Fund, Presbyterian World Service & Development, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, CanWaCH, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, Mennonite Central Committee Canada and Cooperation Canada.

Media contacts

  • For further information or to arrange an interview with any of the organizations involved in the campaign, please contact: [email protected]
  • For further information or to arrange an interview with Canadian Red Cross:
    •  English media line: 1-877-599-9602
    • French media line: 1-888-418-9111


June 22, 2022