from the Toronto Star Aug 13, 2009 02:43 PM
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today the Canada Border Services Agency will have to answer for its role in the plight of a Canadian woman marooned in Kenya for nearly three months.
"Our first priority as a government is obviously to see her get on a flight back to Canada," Harper said in Kitchener today, referring to Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Canadian citizen who was detained because Kenyan and Canadian officials there thought she did not look like her passport photo.
"In the case of the Canadian Border Service Agency," Harper continued, "I know that minister (of public safety Peter) Van Loan is asking that organization for a full accounting of their actions in this case and we’ll obviously review those."
Based on what officials at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi said were "conclusive investigations including an interview," Mohamud was branded an "imposter." Her passport was handed over to Kenyan officials for prosecution on charges of improper use of a travel document.
Harper said that Canadian officials are eager to resolve "what is not an easy case" and to get Mohamud back to Canada.
Kenyan authorities are expected to drop all charges against the woman tomorrow, clearing the way for her to be reunited with her 12-year-old son in Toronto.
Neither Van Loan nor Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who has responsibility for managing all consular cases involving Canadians in need of help abroad, have commented on the case since Mohamud’s identity was confirmed through a DNA test that showed she was a 99.99% match with her son.
Mohamud, a Somali-Canadian, was branded an impostor by staff of the Canadian High Commission in Kenya because she did not resemble her passport photograph. Her lips were different from the four-year-old picture, as were her eyeglasses.
In a telephone interview from Nairobi yesterday, Mohamud gave further details of the event that started her ordeal when she tried to board a KLM flight home on May 21 after a three-week visit to Kenya.
A Kenyan KLM employee stopped her. "He told me he could make me miss my flight," she said of the KLM worker, who suggested Mohamud didn’t look like her passport photo.
He seemed to be soliciting a bribe, she said, an experience Somali-born Torontonians say is commonplace for them at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
When she didn’t pay, a Kenyan immigration official arrested her. Canadian consular officials went along, returning Mohamud to the Kenyans, who threw her in jail on charges of entering Kenya illegally on a passport not her own.
On Monday, DNA tests proved Mohamud’s identity.
Yesterday at the high commission, officials continued to treat Mohamud with indifference, a friend who drove her there said.
When Mohamud asked if Canada might help her retrieve her luggage, seized when she was unable to pay her room bill while trying to prove her identity, consular officials refused, the friend said.
In Toronto, lawyer Raoul Boulakia said a friend of his has arranged to pay the bill as a donation.
The Kenyans also owe her $2,500 (U.S.) in bail money, posted after she spent eight days in June at Nairobi’s Langata Women’s Prison.
Mohamud said the high commission advised her yesterday to stay in the country until she collected the money from Kenya, a process that could take weeks. But Boulakia said he told her to get out of the country first and get the high commission to collect it for her later.
The case highlights the often-puzzling approach the Conservative government takes when deciding which citizens imprisoned or stranded in foreign countries are entitled to high-level help.
Trade Minister Stockwell Day, for instance, requested clemency this summer for a 24-year-old Canadian sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, but the government abandoned a convicted killer from Alberta sitting on death row in Montana.
Last week, Ethiopian diplomats were called on the carpet after the conviction for terrorism of Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal. But Abousfian Abdelrazik, who was never charged with a crime and was cleared by Sudan and Canada of suspected Al Qaeda links, lived a prisoner’s life for six years, the last of which was spent in limbo on the grounds of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum. He needed a judge’s order to bring him home.
For the few Canadians who do get Ottawa’s ear, dozens of pleas go unanswered, say advocates and lawyers for citizens who get into tight situations abroad.
"What I find most disturbing is that Canadians are possibly being judged in absentia by an Orwellian jury comprised of the Canadian cabinet," said Dan McTeague, the Liberal MP for Pickering-Scarborough East who was tasked with handling cases of citizens in need of help abroad under prime minister Paul Martin.
Ottawa lawyer Yavar Hameed argued Abdelrazik’s case against the government. He said the most troubling government decisions inevitably involve security questions.
"There is this kind of interpretation that we can’t do something that’s going to be perceived as soft on the war on terror or showing that we’re not holding up our end of things," said Hameed, suggesting Ottawa has an ever-present fear of being cast as a security threat to the United States.
Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman knows better than most how fickle the government can be. He represents Makhtal, an ethnic Somali sentenced to life in an Ethiopian prison for terrorism.
Makhtal’s case got the backing not only of Cannon but Transport Minister John Baird, who took up the mantle after being approached by the large Somali community living in Baird’s Ottawa West-Nepean riding. They are pushing the Ethiopian government to accept that Makhtal’s only link to terror is hereditary — his grandfather founded a separatist Somali group in eastern Ethiopia.
But Waldman has also done battle with Ottawa. He took the government to Federal Court after the Tories decided Ronald Allen Smith, the death row inmate in Montana, was no longer deserving of Canada’s help or official government appeals on his behalf that the death sentence be commuted, help that Canadians on death row have received for decades.
In 2007, the Conservatives cut all ties with Smith’s case — he was convicted in the 1982 killing of two aboriginal men — because he had been tried and convicted in a democratic country, the United States.
It was the launch of a controversial new policy that was first announced on Nov. 1, 2007 and repeated several times with subtle changes and conditions over the next five months. But legislation, or amendments to existing laws or policies, never followed.
This March, the court ruled that no clear policy actually existed and making life or death decisions on the fly breached Smith’s right as a Canadian citizen to the full protection of the federal government.
The judge ruled that while the government has every right to make foreign policy, it must give fair warning and a detailed explanation of those decisions.
The trend of picking which Canadians get access to help and which don’t has put the government on a collision course with courts.
With files from Robert Benzie