The Criminal Code blocks Canadian humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan

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.


June 22, 2022