Newly disclosed communications on the Suaad Hagi Mohamud passport case show officials crafting public statements that appeared to be the opposite to what was going on behind the scenes.
When officials closed their investigation May 28, concluding the woman who presented Mohamud’s passport was an imposter, they decided to say publicly it was ongoing, email exchanges show.
And when the officials reopened the investigation – "it is important to ensure our t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted" – they agreed to say publicly it was complete.
"This is how you damage people’s reputations," Mohamud’s lawyer Julian Falconer said Thursday of the government focus on what it calls "media lines," meaning what to tell reporters.
Mohamud is suing Ottawa for $2.5 million for "callous and reckless treatment" at the hands of the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, after a woman with Mohamud’s passport was arrested for not looking like the passport photo.
Canadian officials suspected the woman was Mohamud’s younger sister, a sister Mohamud says does not exist, even though one was listed on her immigration application more than 10 years ago.
The newly disclosed "consular file," which shows government officials insisting Mohamud is an "imposter" even as they are reopening their investigation, could mean her claim for damages doubles or triples, Falconer said.
"By creating this cloud of doubt, you completely aggravate the damage to her reputation," he said.
Mohamud, a 31-year-old Canadian of Somali origin, says she was set to board a flight home to Toronto on May 21 when she was stopped.
Court documents filed this week included an affidavit from Paul Jamieson, the high commission investigator who came to the "imposter" conclusion.
In his affidavit, Jamieson says the woman he interviewed got her 14-year-old son’s birthday wrong by two days, could not say what TTC stands for or where the Eaton Centre is. She was vague and evasive on May 21, 22 and 25, he says.
The 300-page consular file includes emails between foreign affairs officials in Ottawa and at the high commission in Nairobi, mostly during June and early July.
On May 28, the high commission labelled the woman an imposter and turned her over to the Kenyans, who asked that a Canadian official testify at her fraud trial. The Canadians were reluctant.
"If the accused ended up being a Canadian … we could open ourselves up for prosecution," consular official Liliane Khadour writes.
In June, Mohamud’s MP Joe Volpe (Liberal, Eglinton-Lawrence) starts making inquiries. Although the investigation was closed, emails show officials deciding to tell him they are working with Kenyan authorities to verify the identity of the individual.
On July 2, a day after the Star broke the story, the media line changes. A department spokesperson says the woman has conclusively been determined an imposter. Behind the scenes, officials were second-guessing themselves.
"Have we done our due diligence?" the minister’s office asks.
On July 3, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon’s spokesperson Catherine Loubier writes: "Could we look into other options … such as fingerprinting and genetic testing?"