From the Toronto Star Jul 28, 2009 04:30 AM
A Toronto woman trapped in Africa allowed Canadian officials to weigh, measure, photograph, fingerprint and swab her for DNA yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to prove her identity.
"They took my height, my reach, everything," said Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a 31-year-old single mother stuck in Nairobi for more than two months, apparently for not looking enough like her passport photo.
Why Ottawa would go to such security extremes remains a mystery but a possible explanation surfaced.
"They want to make sure we don’t switch people," said Mohamud’s Toronto lawyer, Raoul Boulakia, citing a hypothesis he says came last week from a justice department lawyer.
Maybe Mohamud lent her passport to her sister in Kenya, the theory goes, or to some other look-alike.
Maybe it was the sister, not Mohamud, who tried to leave Kenya for Toronto on May 17. And maybe a Kenyan passport officer arrested and jailed the sister, not Mohamud, saying her lips don’t match those in the passport photo.
By documenting Mohamud every which way, the proposition goes, Canadian authorities are certain to let the right person proceed to Toronto.
"I asked them, ‘What are you talking about?’ " said Boulakia, finding the explanation hard to follow.
Both Toronto-based justice department lawyers on the case, Peter Southey and Gregory George, denied floating any such scenario.
"They think I have a sister that looks like me but I don’t," Somali-born Mohamud said from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. "I have nobody who looks like me. And my (four) sisters live in Europe."
Whether Mohamud is the first Canadian citizen ever to give a DNA sample to settle a passport challenge is not known. Spokespeople for Foreign Affairs, Passport Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency refused to answer the question.
What is known for certain is that no Canadian official has checked Mohamud’s story in Toronto with her best friends, neighbours, employer, ex-husband, 12-year-old son or the son’s babysitter, Boulakia said.
"When they match the DNA they’ll think of another excuse (to prevent Mohamud’s return)," said ex-husband Asbscir Hussein, who with the son is to give a DNA sample tomorrow.
"She is suffering," Hussein said of his ex-wife, released from jail after eight days but living in a rundown hotel in a slum district of Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb.
DNA testing in Canada is controversial because it raises privacy concerns.
Boulakia said it was his idea to have Ottawa take a sample only because Ottawa refused to accept the stack of identity cards Mohamud provided Canadian officials in Nairobi, refused to accept six affidavits he filed in federal court last week and refused to verify Mohamud’s identity by conventional methods.
"I said, `Do a DNA test if you don’t believe any of the documents’ – that’s all that’s left," the lawyer said.
DNA testing is listed as a "last resort" to verify the identity of somebody wishing to join a family member in Canada, says a policy manual of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
No mention is made of DNA testing on Canadian citizens.
"It’s not necessarily an invasion of privacy," McGill University medical ethicist Margaret Somerville said of the government taking Mohamud’s DNA swab.
"An invasion of privacy is something that is done without consent," she said. "Once you’ve given the consent, it’s no longer an invasion. It’s a permitted entry."