How the government makes war on Canadians
Update: (Aug 21) Ms. Mohamud and her lawyers have launched a lawsuit against the Canadian government seeking $2.5 million in damages.
I’ve been trying to concoct in my head a scenario that would explain the outrageous treatment of the Canadian citizen, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, who our government threw in jail when she showed up at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, expecting to fly home after visiting her sick mother in Kenya.
Ms. Mohamud returned to Toronto Saturday night after enduring months of mistreatment, including a week in a dank prison cell despite the fact she’d committed no crime. Her story is well known in Canada, and her return home is reported here.
I have a lot of trouble trying to understand what went on. I can imagine Ms. Mohamud arriving at the airport that evening in May, having bid her ill mother a tearful goodbye. Her sorrow at leaving her mother is relieved by her joyful anticipation of soon seeing her 12-year-old son back in Toronto.
She presents her passport. Somebody at KLM, mindful of an airline’s responsibility to see that passengers carry proper documentation, becomes suspicious. Ms. Mohamud doesn’t look quite like the picture in the passport. Her lips don’t seem the same. KLM denies her a boarding pass, and calls the Canadian High Commission.
Consular officials apparently interview Ms. Mohamud. According to a news release from the Canadian Muslim Congress, Canada’s vice-consul, Liliane Khadour (described as a Canadian of Egyptian origin) writes to Kenyan authorities:
“…We have carried out conclusive investigations including an interview and have confirmed that the person brought to the Canadian High Commission on suspicion of being an impostor is not the rightful holder of the aforementioned passport.” She then went on to encourage the Kenyan authorities to prosecute Suaad Mohamud “regarding the improper use of the passport by a person other than the rightful holder.
This is where the story loses all credulity. Ms. Mohamud backed up her passport with a driver’s license and other documents. She identified her employer in Toronto and offered to be finger-printed.
What effort did the High Commission make to confirm/deny her story? Did they check to see if the passport in question had been reported stolen? Or to see if the real Ms. Mohamud was back in Toronto?
If they thought the Ms. Mohamud before them was some African imposter, wouldn’t a few questions about Toronto have set aside (or confirmed) their doubts? Where do you shop for groceries? What school does your son attend? A phone number for someone who can vouch for you?
Instead, Canadian officials have a Canadian citizen clapped in jail. Only when desperate family and friends appeal to the media, does the case come to light. Then in comes a legal aid lawyer back in Toronto, Raoul Boulakia. He valiantly takes up her cause. He runs into nothing but government stonewalling. Finally, he arranges a DNA testing which shows Ms. Mohamud is the mother of her Toronto son.
The fiasco unwinds to its ultimate denoeument. Canada asks Kenya to drop the charges. The prosecutor can’t find the letter. At the last minute, it mysteriously shows up. Ms. Mohamud is free to go. She is whisked away in a Canadian government SUV. (It’s okay for Canada to drive gas guzzlers in Africa, apparently.)
As a final insult, Prime Minister Harper uses the case to lecture Canadians on their behavior abroad. Obey foreign laws. The government can’t always rescue you if you get into difficulty. Which conveniently overlooks the fact that it’s Canada, not Ms. Mohamud, who is the author of her difficulty.
On CBC Sunday morning, Mr. Boulakia revels that Ms. Mohamud is seriously ill. Not just tired. Suffering from either pneumonia, tuberculosis, or some tropical disease. All attested to (how deliciously ironic) by a doctor who is an expert in the effects of torture. Any or all of these illnesses she probably contracted in that Kenyan jail. How would you feel if you’d been a passenger on her homebound flight?
Speaking with admirable restraint, Mr. Boulakia refused to be drawn into discussion of possible legal action. Her health comes first, he said. You can be sure there will be a lawsuit, that it will drag on for months if not years, and that in the end Canada will end up paying heavy damages, possibly in the millions.
What a shame Ottawa can’t just own up to the error of its ways, and pay up promptly, without this charade of heavy duty legal maneuvering, all of which will enrich any lawyers retained to defend the indefensible.
Haroon Siddiqui, the Toronto Star columnist, writes today that the case is suspiciously similar to those of a number of Canadians left stranded abroad recently by the Harper government.
Siddiqui agrees that bureaucratic misdeeds lie at the root of Ms. Mohamud’s problems. But, he says, we must not let those wrongs “obscure the systematic damage being inflicted by the Harper government” on our fundamental rights as Canadian citizens.
Is it more than coincidence that this cases follows a number of others where Canada has been less than aggressive in defending the interests of Canadians abroad? Omar Khadr. Marar Arar. Bashir Makhtal. Abousfian Abdelrazik. Or Maziar Bahari, the Canadian journalist detained in Iran.
It’s disturbing to notice that all these cases involve immigrants of color who have become Canadian citizens. Is there a mind-set in government that suggests these people are not really “Canadians”?
This is alarmingly reminiscent of Prime Minister Mulroney’s expression of condolences to India at the time of the Air India crash. He hadn’t seemed to notice that most of the victims were Canadian citizens.
Clearly, Ms. Mohamud’s ordeal is a prima facie case of bureaucratic bungling. Will anyone be held accountable? Will the government – its ministers right up to Mr. Harper — look themselves in the mirror and remind themselves, “a Canadian is a Canadian”?