OTTAWA -- Canada’s minister of women and gender equality says her mention of the Taliban as “our brothers” during a press conference Wednesday is a “cultural reference,” after receiving criticism for her choice of language.

Maryam Monsef – who was born in Iran and raised in Afghanistan – had a direct message for the terrorist group, which has swiftly taken control of most of Afghanistan since the U.S. began withdrawing its troops following a 20-year mission.

“I want to take this opportunity to speak with our brothers, the Taliban. We call on you to ensure the safe and secure passage of any individual in Afghanistan out of the country. We call on you to immediately stop the violence, the genocide, the femicide, the destruction of infrastructure, including heritage buildings,” she said, speaking alongside colleagues while providing an update about Canada’s efforts to evacuate Afghans from the country.

When asked later if the term “brothers” reflected a softening of the government’s approach to the Taliban, she responded: “Hardly.”

“The Taliban are a terrorist group and yet they claim to be Muslims,” she said. “The reference to brothers is a cultural reference of course but let me be very clear, we do not support the Taliban, we are horrified the hard-won gains of the past 20 years are at stake.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Monsef’s remarks on Wednesday.

“The language used by the Trudeau government is completely unacceptable. I think of the women and girls in Afghanistan who are at risk with the Taliban regime once again coming into place. Canadians deserve a government that will always stand up for our values,” O’Toole said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said last week that he has “no plans” to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government after former president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Asked how he plans to negotiate with the group going forward to ensure more citizens can safely leave, Trudeau said Canada is working with the “international community” to put pressure on them.

Thousands of Afghans continue to flock to the Kabul airport to flee the ruling Taliban as the Aug. 31 evacuation deadline of U.S. troops inches closer.

The Canadian government said on Wednesday the military has extracted more than 2,700 individuals to date and nearly 1,000 have actually set foot in Canada. They did not provide clarity on whether, they too, are aiming for a full retreat of military personnel by the same date.

"[The Americans] must maintain control of the airport until the end of their mission and be the last to leave. Drawing down a mission takes a considerable amount of time. It is not done overnight and it comes with significant risk," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said.

"We remain dedicated to evacuating as many people as we can in the limited time we have left. This means more Canadians and vulnerable Afghans will be evacuated but it will take some time before we know the exact number."