From the Toronto Star Aug 13, 2009 04:30 AM
Allan Woods in Ottawa
John Goddard in Toronto
OTTAWA–The federal government continued its foot-dragging yesterday, leaving Suaad Hagi Mohamud to languish yet another day in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Her lawyer said he wants the Toronto woman on a flight home tomorrow and Canada has asked Kenya to clear the way for that return.
But Ottawa was reluctant to book the return flight until the Kenyan court has cleared Mohamud of charges – charges since proven false and resulting from a botched Canadian investigation.
Two ministers with responsibility for the stranded Canadian – Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan – continued their silence on the matter yesterday. Calls to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office were not returned.
But outrage over Ottawa’s handling of the case continued to bubble over. Premier Dalton McGuinty issued a stern rebuke of the Harper government, saying there was "no excuse" for its inaction.
"Something is fundamentally wrong when we can’t count on the Canadian government to stand up for Canadians. I’m not sure I can put it any more directly than that," said McGuinty.
"It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves, we are citizens of this wonderful country and we have responsibilities and we have certain legitimate expectations.
"One of those (expectations) is when we find ourselves in distress that our government will stand up for us. That didn’t happen in this particular circumstance and there’s no excuse for that."
A spokesperson for Cannon maintained the government was "doing everything in its power" to facilitate as quickly as possible the return of Mohamud, 31, a single mother of a 12-year-old boy.
She is to see Kenyan immigration officials tomorrow morning, her lawyer said. In court, the Kenyans are to drop all charges against her.
Foreign Affairs confirmed last night Mohamud had been to the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi to begin the process of applying for an emergency travel document.
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