By Hussein Hamdani
(Oct 18, 2009) – All Canadians should be offended when the federal government disowns Canadians abroad, especially if there may be religious or racial overtones involved. We should not tolerate a two-tier citizenship system in which some citizens get red carpet treatment while other citizens are abandoned without justification.
Recently, the cases of Omar Khadr, Abousfian Abdelrazik and Suaad Hagi Mohamud have raised concerns that the federal government is picking and choosing which Canadians (or which type of Canadians) they are willing to defend and which Canadians they could not care less for.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups are strongly condemning the Harper government’s decision to take the Omar Khadr case to the Supreme Court, warning the move will further strain Canada’s international reputation when it comes to defending human rights. The government will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeal court ruling that Ottawa must ask Washington to release Khadr from Guantanamo Bay and hand him over to Canadian authorities.
The federal appeal court ruled that the government must request Omar’s repatriation. This is because the Canadian officials interrogated himknowing he had just been subject to 21 days of sleep deprivation, threats and intimidation (which the court suggested amounted to torture), that he was a minor and had no lawyer at the time. The officials then turned over the fruits of the interrogation to his captors.
“While Canada may have preferred to stand by and let the proceedings against … Khadr in the United States take their course, the violation of his Charter rights by Canadian officials has removed that option,” the court stated.
The ruling concluded: “There is no legal or factual foundation upon which this court can conclude that the decision not to request … Khadr’s repatriation is justified.”
Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, describes the area that his client is being held in as a “cage” in which his client is chained to the floor. Edney says Khadr is blind in one eye and is slowly losing sight in the other. Prison officials have denied requests for glasses for “security reasons.”
“This is a government that is mean spirited” Edney said, and suggested there are racial overtones to Ottawa’s decision to refuse to request to bring him home, given that the same government sent a cabinet minister to personally intervene, then a private plane to Mexico last year to bring home Brenda Martin, who was convicted of fraud related charges. “Was that because she was Anglo- Saxon?” he asked.
We learned recently the Harper government spent more than $800,000 in legal fees fighting a losing battle to keep Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik from coming home, according to Justice Minister Robert Nicholson. Abdelrazik spent years in forced exile in Sudan while successive Canadian governments refused to issue him a passport because the United States had branded him an al-Qaeda operative. But our security agencies had cleared him of any involvement whatsoever. All he needed was a passport; he was going to pay his own way home (he did not need a private plane). But his government failed him until his lawyers and the courts intervened. He lost years of his life and Canadians lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Lastly, consider what happened to Suaad Haji Mohamud, a citizen jailed in Kenya this summer for allegedly falsifying a Canadian passport. Canadian officials said that they had “conclusive” information she lied. The results were horrendous. She became stateless. She was marooned in a distant prison until her lawyer and the Somali Canadian community intervened, and she established her identity with a DNA test. Rightfully, she is now suing the federal government.
When Canada acts arbitrarily or abusively toward its citizens, in Canada or abroad, the courts may be the last line of protection. Canadian taxpayers will pay a heavy price when our government abuses its own citizens. First, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent (unnecessarily and foolishly) on lawyers the government retains. Second, once the abused citizen returns, the government will be forced to make amends with the harmed person by paying millions in settlement.
It seems to me the loser is the Canadian taxpayer.
*Freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani lives in Burlington, and works as a lawyer in Hamilton.