The Parliament of Canada will soon debate our country’s role in the armed conflict underway in Afghanistan. A number of issues are involved in this debate: the recently published Manley Report, the question of transferring prisoners, the impact of Canadian military efforts, support from the other nations that are members of NATO, concerns about the justice of the conflict, and the terrible cost in human lives, including Canadian soldiers as well as Afghan citizens.
Bishops who are members of the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) recognize how complex the situation is and how little information Canadians have. One thing is certain, and that is the conviction expressed by Pope Benedict XVI “that war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors.”
The people of Afghanistan want peace. We hope this conviction will be central to the deliberations by the Parliament of Canada. Political and electoral considerations must take second place when it is a question of human lives and a people’s future. We would invite the members of Parliament to put aside any predetermined stances, recognizing that the truth will involve concerted efforts. Diverse points of view need to be welcomed as contributions toward developing a detailed and constructive action plan, with peace as the ultimate goal.
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has developed a rich and wise social teaching that can help inform the present discussion. I wish to suggest three points that flow from this teaching:
“It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice.” Peace negotiations, carried out in good faith and involving all the parties concerned – this approach needs special consideration.
A clear distinction must be made between military operations and humanitarian aid. In particular, “humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it.” Otherwise, one endangers the lives of numerous civilians as well as those humanitarian workers who become targets for the insurgents.
The human dignity of Canadian soldiers must be safeguarded. Their moral integrity is brought into question when international law is not respected, especially when the troubling issue is the torture of enemy combatants. Furthermore, the personal well-being of Canadian soldiers and their families must be ensured.
Finally, in view of the recommendations of the Manley Report, we ask the Government of Canada to show greater transparency on the issues surrounding the Afghanistan conflict. More complete and reliable information from the government will help Canadian citizens better understand the objective, the questions and the conditions involved in the Afghanistan conflict, and also how to evaluate the engagement there of Canadian armed forces and humanitarian agencies. This information is essential if all Canadians are to be involved in making decisions that can lead to real and lasting peace in that country.
I would invite our political representatives to remember what Benedict XVI went on to say in his statement: “… the only solution is for us all to live together … it is up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.” This is why there needs to be a real debate on Canada’s role in Afghanistan, a debate that focuses on the issues facing the Afghan people.
I also invite every person of faith to join me in prayer – that the Afghan people find peace and security; that the families of soldiers who gave their lives find consolation; and that our political leaders engage in a serious debate that will help Canadians decide on Canada’s role in Afghanistan.
 Interview with Pope Benedict XVI in preparation for his apostolic visit to Munich, Altötting and Ratisbonne (9 to 14 September 2006), Castel Gandolfo, 5 August 2006.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 497, Vatican Publishing House – CCCB Publications, 2006.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 504.
 Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan – Final Report, Recommendation no. 5, p. 48.
 Interview with Pope Benedict XVI, Castel Gandolfo, 5 August 2006.