A 10-year-old Afghan girl who was preparing to come to Canada with her family was instead shot dead by the Taliban last week, a death critics say is partly to blame on Ottawa's sluggish efforts to relocate Afghans who worked with the Canadian military.
Nazifa's father had worked for the Canadian Armed Forces in Kandahar, said Kynan Walper, chief operations officer at Aman Lara, a veterans group volunteering to help Afghans who served with the military escape the country.
Walper blamed an inadequate evacuation effort by the Canadian government and delays in immigration processing for the girl's killing.
"I cannot be clear enough — this young girl is dead because of delays in getting people over here," said Walper. He says Nazifa was learning English and was excited about moving to Canada.
The family received visa approvals, under the federal government's special immigration program for Afghans who worked alongside Canada, in mid-October, according to Walper.
But they were stuck in Afghanistan with little help from Ottawa, he said, as they struggled to get Afghan passports so they could travel to a third country, in this case Pakistan, and then onward to Canada.
Nazifa's father, Bashir, Walper said, is devastated.
Nazifa's death, and its circumstances, were first reported by Global News. The family's last name is being withheld for security reasons.
The family was returning from a wedding on the night of Dec. 10 in Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland, when the shooting happened.
The group thought they had been cleared to pass through a checkpoint — but seconds later Taliban fighters opened fire on their vehicle.
An adult woman related to the girl was also killed and "several" others were injured, Walper said.
He said the family fears it may have been targeted because of Bashir's work with the Canadian military — but it's unclear why exactly the shooting began.
The Taliban granted a general amnesty for those who worked with foreign forces. But human rights organizations and Afghan sources have accused Taliban fighters of carrying out targeted retribution killings in the months since taking back Afghanistan.
Alex Cohen, press secretary for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, called Nazifa's death "tragic and heartbreaking," writing that Canada condemns "this senseless act of violence by the Taliban."
Cohen said thousands of Afghans who have been granted approval to come to Canada remain stuck due to "Taliban interference" and changing documentation requirements in neighbouring countries.
"We have been working to process applications as quickly as possible and get Afghan refugees to Canada as fast as we can," Cohen wrote.
"We continue to work with our allies, and an array of other partners, to find new routes for Afghans to leave the country and make their way to Canada."
But retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded NATO troops in Kandahar, says Ottawa is not acting with enough urgency as so many Afghans who helped Canada are left fearing for their lives under Taliban rule.
"Anything is better than what we're doing right now," Fraser said. "This is not building a spaceship. It's not that complex."
Fraser said he knew of Nazifa's family through a contact at the military camp where Bashir worked.
"Could we have saved this family? That's going to be a question that I will wrestle with for the rest of my life."
Ottawa has promised to take in 40,000 Afghan refugees — a process that is set to take up to two years to complete. About 12,000 applications have been approved so far, with 5,700 of those people now in the country.
"We need answers from the federal government as to why this family could not get out of Afghanistan in time," Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole wrote in a statement.
He said the new parliamentary committee on Canada's response to the Taliban victory will examine the girl's killing.
Walper acknowledged the crisis poses difficult challenges but said Ottawa needs to do more to solve them.
"There are logjams in the process that need to be fixed," Walper said.
"I want this girl's death to not be for nothing," he said. "I want her death to wake people up to what's happening in that country."