Some Canadians should just stay home

By PAT WATSON

The differences between the political cultures in Ottawa and Washington appear in contrast lately, and not just because of the colour contrast between the two leaders.

We might have spent some time along with the rest of the world wagging our fingers at the Americans for their shoddy and reckless, some would say lawless, aggressions onto foreign soil, but at the very least they have a better public image when it comes to protecting their own abroad.

In a much publicized, yet relatively small crisis, North Korea has received major U.S. media attention over Pyongyang’s detention of two Asian-American journalists who had allegedly crossed the border from China into North Korea illegally while shooting pictures for a U.S. television station.

The pair were sentenced to 12 years hard labour. On television, in print and most definitely behind the scenes, America was working to get the women out of North Korea. The episode continued for just over four months.

Then, just like in the movies, America sent in the ‘big gun’. Former president Bill Clinton flew to North Korea and, after meetings with the Kim Jong Il government, the women were “pardoned” and he brought them home.

The tables have indeed turned for the U.S. Previously, Americans who dared travel to certain countries would have to masquerade as Canadians in order to be safe. Now, it is the Canadians who are being left to languish on foreign soil by their government if they find themselves in disfavour out there in the wider would. Canadian citizenship no longer seems to provide a safety net. Or maybe that’s a secret known only to naturalized Canadians, especially those of colour.

Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik’s six-year ordeal in Sudan is an example. Ottawa resisted aiding him until the Federal Court issued an order to bring Abdelrazik home, citing his Charter right to re-enter his “country of citizenship by choice”.

He was first detained in 2003 on suspicion of being a terrorist when he traveled from Montreal to Khartoum in order to visit his ailing mother. There he was picked up by the authorities, detained and interrogated a number of times. According to a number of reports, the Sudanese authorities detained Abdelrazik, a machinist, at the request of the Canadian government, on suspicion that he was involved in terrorist activities. Abdelrazik denied this and a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigation also cleared him.

Then there is the case of Suaad Haji Mohamud, 31, detained in Nairobi, Kenya since mid-May. Her detention included more than a week in jail on the suspicion that she was not who she said she was. In her case, it was Canadian immigration officials in Kenya who prevented her departure after they concluded that she did not look like the photo representation in her passport. This was despite reportedly providing officials with other relevant Canadian identification.

Earlier this week, her lawyer Raoul Boulakia told reporters that a DNA test proved her identity as authentic, which now opens the way for her to receive temporary travel documents in order to return to Canada and her 12-year-old son in Toronto. It will be worth watching to see how long the procedure takes.

Bashir Makhtal, 40, a former computer programmer in Toronto, is now receiving support and attention here after being sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia, charged with supporting Islamist militias in Somalia. He denies the charge.

Along with the life sentence, the concern is that he was flown illegally to Ethiopia – out of Somalia, where he had been running a trading company – and not allowed to communicate with Canadian embassy officials for more than a year and a half.

In Makhtal’s case, federal government officials have made the usual bland pronouncements about being concerned but, so far, he remains in jail.

All these examples involve naturalized Canadians of colour, so it is hard not to draw some obvious conclusions. Moreover, these are the cases that become public. No doubt, there are stories waiting to be told.

So which group of Canadians traveling abroad has reason to be cautious about how much they can rely on Canadian embassies and foreign-based Canadian immigration officials?

On a note of irresponsibility…

Why does the reckless driver cop a bad attitude once his or her selfish, even dangerous, driving is pointed out? After cutting some person off, tires screeching and all the works, why does such a person then add insult to injury with rude hand gestures? For such reasons, this commuter is sticking with public transit.

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