No Canadian compensation for families of Gurkhas killed in Kabul blast

Global Affairs Canada was left scrambling last year to find another private security firm to stand watch over the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, after a suicide bombing claimed the lives of 13 Nepalese Gurkhas, federal documents show.

The attack, which was believed to have been carried out by a shadowy group affiliated with ISIS, also left the Liberal government in an awkward position with Nepal when it turned down that country's request to compensate families of the victims.

The tough and much-admired former soldiers worked for Sabre International Security and died when a bomber on foot blew himself up beside their minibus as the guards were being driven to work at the embassy on the morning of June 20, 2016.  

The company abruptly terminated its contract with Global Affairs Canada in the aftermath of the attack that also killed two of the company's Indian employees.

A briefing note prepared in early July for then foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion, obtained by CBC News under Access to Information, shows Sabre had trouble getting replacements for the dangerous assignment and gave its notice "effective as soon as possible, preferably within the next 30 days."

The Nepalese government slapped an immediate foreign employment ban on its citizens, preventing them from working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The move stopped 33 Gurkhas, all employees of Sabre, from returning to work in Kabul.

The company tried to arrange replacements from Uganda, "who would not be under the same travel restrictions," but ultimately chose to ditch its contract the Canadian Embassy, the briefing said.

Global Affairs secured through an emergency sole-source contract another company, GardaWorld, to take over duties in Kabul, said spokesman Michael O'Shaughnessy in an email.

The department is in the process of running a competition to select a permanent replacement, he added.

Compensation denied

But the sensitive issue of compensation for families of the victims remains unresolved, said a spokesperson for Nepal's embassy in Ottawa.

"The request [was made] on humanitarian ground to support the children and the [widows] of the deceased security guards," said Dilip Kumar Paudel, who noted the guards were killed while on the way to active duty at the Canadian Embassy.

"They were the only bread earners in the family, and the entire extended family was dependent on their income for livelihood. The government of Nepal requested the government of Canada for compensation because Canada is reputed for championing humanitarian cause, human dignity and worth of human value."

Nepal has made a formal diplomatic request to Canada regarding compensation.

The briefing note prepared for Dion said, "There is no employment relationship between the guards and the government of Canada — the guards are employed by Sabre." The note said the contractor was supposed to provide "safe and secure" transportation to the embassy.

Nepalese politicians, immediately after the bombing, publicly accused Canada of negligence and a failure to protect the Gurkhas, who served with the British army, but had retired and were much sought after by private security firms.

"The government of Canada did not assume any duty of care to the guards during their transportation to and from the mission," said the briefing.

Dion described guards as 'family'

At the time of the attack, Dion expressed his heartfelt sympathy in a statement, saying, "Many of the victims have been part of our embassy family for years, and they will be remembered for their service in the protection of the men and women at the Embassy of Canada to Afghanistan."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted his sympathy.

O'Shaughnessy said recently that Canada formally expressed its "deepest condolences" to Nepalese officials, adding "compensation to the victims' family members has been made by the private security company as per their employment contracts."

In addition, the families of the dead former soldiers received about $23,000 US in ex gratia payments from the government of Nepal.

Staff at the embassy, who last year erected a memorial plaque to the victims, held a fundraiser for the relatives, but it's unclear how much it raised.

Friendly relations?

Even with Canada's refusal of compensation, "interactions at the officials' level remain cordial," department bureaucrats assured Dion.

Paudel would not say the situation has strained relations between the countries, but was firm in reiterating the appeal for redress.

"Nepal [and] Canada have enjoyed long-standing friendly relations ever since the establishment of the diplomatic relations and this continues to grow," he said.

"Providing some relief to the families of the victims on humanitarian ground would further contribute to deepen relations at the people's level."