Questions for Prime Minister Stephen Harper

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher

The Canadian consular official who seems to have been directly responsible for the wrongful imprisonment and forced exile in Kenya of Canadian Suaad Hagi Mohamud – deemed an imposter when she presented her Canadian passport to board a flight home – is back in Canada, according to a Toronto Star article this week.

The woman, Liliane Khadour, who co-owns a condo in Ottawa with her boyfriend, who was also a Canadian consular official in Kenya, has been unavailable for comment and is holed up (our words, not the Star’s) in an Ottawa hotel.

Actually, the Star – and its reporters who never gave up on this story – must be highly commended for their persistence in seeing justice done in this case and to see Mohamud home, where she now is, safely.

There is a lot of responsibility that needs to be accepted here, however. First, the Kenyan official who refused to let Mohamud on the flight. He was quoted by Mohamud as saying that he could cause her to miss her flight. Mohamud took this to mean that he might have been looking for a bribe. Surely, if he could have caused her to miss her flight, he also could have caused her to catch her flight – had she handed him the passport again, perhaps with a couple of U.S. dollars stuck between its pages.

Two consular officials who were summoned to the airport to interview Mohamud sided with the Kenyan official. Why? Did they ever pause to consider the possibility that she might have been telling the truth?

That’s how the case reached the desk of Khadour who, after a “conclusive investigation”, according to her, determined that Mohamud was not who she claimed to be and turned her over to the Kenyan authorities who then sent her to a jail for women where she would spend the next eight days before friends were able to raise the US$2500 to bail her out.

Why was it so easy for these Canadian officials to turn their back on a Canadian citizen in a difficult situation? Was it because she didn’t fit their image of a Canadian citizen? Was it because of widespread fraudulent activity with regard to Canadian passports in that country?

According to the Star, several attempts were made to contact federal government ministers here on Mohamud’s behalf, to no avail. Phone calls were not even returned.

Mohamud did not run afoul of any laws, just the mean-spiritedness of one possibly corrupt local official and the ignorance and/or racism of people whom we pay to look after the interests of Canadians abroad.

There has been a lot of concern on the part of Canadians, especially Canadians of colour, since this story broke, and more particularly those who travel outside the country. One woman, in a letter to the editor of one of the daily newspapers, wondered if, on her way to the airport, she should deposit a DNA sample with her lawyer – just in case. Others worried that if their Canada-issued passport was not good enough if they got into difficulties in a foreign country, what would their alternatives be?

Reports indicate that Mohamud presented her passport, driver’s licence and health card – as well as other identification, even including a recent laundry ticket from a Toronto area dry cleaner, which she happened to have in her purse – to no avail.

The government has a lot for which to answer. Who are these people sent abroad to represent and serve Canadians? What kind of training do they receive? Are they equipped with a clear understanding of the multicultural nature of Canada, especially in the large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver? Do some of these people even know these larger cities? Someone who knows Toronto, for example, could have asked Mohamud to describe the city and the area in which she lived. That could have helped to clear things up.

Finally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he did not know of the issue – which had gone on for three months – until just a few days ago. Why is that? Does he not read the papers? Isn’t there someone on his staff to brief him on issues affecting Canada or Canadians around the world? Or are all of his staff just as blind to the plight of visible minority Canadians as their consular staff in Kenya?

Harper has to answer these questions. Or visible minority and other well-meaning Canadians across the country will have to answer them for him – when next we go to the polls.

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