Devaluing the Canadian Passport


If you’ve been following this blog or, better yet, that of Dr. Dawg, you’ll have heard about the unfortunate case of Abousfian Abdelrazik.

Although that case ended relatively happily with Mr. Abdelrazik’s court-ordered return to Montreal after six years trapped in the Sudan, his case should have raised concerns from Canadians across the political spectrum over the performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in defending the rights of Canadians travelling abroad. It was shocking to see ministry officials, including the Minister Lawrence Cannon himself, drag their feet over repatriating Mr. Abdelrazik, offering up another excuse as each previous one was shot down, and generally acting like spoiled children who should be sent to their rooms.

It would be comforting if we could look at the case of Mr. Abdelrazik as an isolated incident, complicated by political issues in the Sudan and the United States, but Dr. Dawg has been following other cases where officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not been doing their jobs. Most recently, there has been the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Somali-born Canadian citizen visiting Kenya.

Ms. Mohamud was about to return to Toronto when a Kenyan official at Nairobi’s Airport looked at her passport and decided that the woman in front of him looked nothing like the woman in the picture. He accused her of being an impostor, confiscated her passport and refused her entry onto the plane. The passport was sent to Canadian consular officials, who backed up Kenyan accusations that the woman was an impostor, and sent the passport back to Kenyan officials who then proceeded with criminal proceedings. If found guilty by a Kenyan court, Ms. Mohamud faces deportation to the country of her birth, Somalia.

Several things about this case do not make sense. Ms. Mohamud’s twelve-year-old son remains in Canada and, while Ms. Mohamud awaits her fate in a Nairobi hotel, she has remained in phone contact with him. Her son vouches for his mother’s identity, as do her neighbours and her MP, Joe Volpe. What is more disturbing is, again, how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dragged its feet, and risked having Ms. Mohamud deported to Somalia before the matter of her identity could be proven one way or the other.

Initially, Ms. Mohamud offered her fingerprints to prove that she was who she said she was. She was fingerprinted, after all, when she went through the process of becoming a landed immigrant and then a citizen of Canada. After some hemming and hawing, Canadian officials accepted her fingerprints, and then, after saying nothing for days while her Kenyan court date approached, informed her that the original fingerprints had been destroyed, meaning no comparison was possible. So, why lead her on? They then hemmed and hawed over her offer to do a DNA test, to prove that she is the mother of her twelve-year-old son in Canada. That’s finally in process, and fortunately her deportation hearing in Kenya, which was to be held this past Friday, was delayed until October 16 to allow the results to be placed in evidence.

It doesn’t help that the basis of the accusation that Ms. Mohamud is an impostor is disturbingly vague. Her lips, apparently, did not pass muster, and there were concerns that her glasses were different. How much do we look like our passport photos? Is this the sort of treatment we can expect if we run into problems abroad?

I have to wonder at the casual attitude by ministry officials on this case. Why lead the woman on about the use of her fingerprints? Why the delay in accepting her offer to use a DNA test to prove her identity? And, finally, if ministry officials truly believe that this Ms. Mohamud in Kenya is an impostor, why are they not engaging in a missing persons investigation for the real Ms. Mohamud, who we know left Toronto for Kenya and, apparently according to some in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has vanished while some stranger takes her place?

And, again, this is not an isolated incident. Consider the case of Abdihakim Mohamed, another Somali-born Canadian citizen marooned in Kenya. In this case, the red taped hand of bureaucracy is more at play, here, since Mr. Mohamed’s mother admits that she made a mistake. Three years ago, she took her autistic son to visit family in Kenya, and returned to Canada, taking her son’s passport with her. At the time she felt that he’d lose the passport or have it stolen, otherwise, but on notifying Canadian customs officials of what she’d done on her return to Ottawa’s airport, officials confiscated her son’s passport and refused to issue him another one.

So, Mr. Mohamed has spent the past three years in Kenya, receiving no treatment for his Autism, facing deportation to his country of birth, while his mother struggles with the bureaucratic system to try and rectify her mistake. A little bit of compassion is all that is required here — at least enough to allow Mr. Mohamed to submit to a DNA test to prove his biological connection to his mother, currently living in Ottawa. But for the past three years, this has been denied.

It disturbs me that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears asleep at the switch in these cases when it comes to defending the rights of Canadians abroad. I believe that Canadian citizens have a right to at least some form of protection from our government when we travel. Americans expect it; and almost every other country offers it. Otherwise, what is the point of having consulates and embassies in other countries?

And it is important to note that two of these cases span the length of the current Harper government and have their roots in Paul Martin’s Liberal administration. It’s worth noting that Michael Ignatieff’s response to the Abdelrazik case has been muted, although individuals like Dan McTeague have tried to hold the government’s feet to the fire over Ms. Mohamed’s file. But the treatment of these Canadians over the past two years has been nothing short of shameful, and the responsibility for this has to go to the top. Minister Lawrence Cannon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have had plenty of opportunities to intervene, showing compassion and sensitivity, and they haven’t taken them. For that, they should be ashamed of themselves.

The Case of Xue Longlong

As I write this, Sandy Crux brings to my attention the unfortunate case of Mr. Xue Longlong of China, who has encountered a particularly nasty case of identity theft and callous treatment by his government. As reported in the New York Times, Mr. Longlong discovered that officials had misplaced his “accumulated record” of education.

Unlike North America, having something go on your “permanent record” in China actually means something. Without this record of his successes and failures through various levels in school, culminating in his graduation from college, he has been effectively locked out of most of the careers available in China. He has been forced to spend the past few years of his life working menial jobs, and government officials have done little, if anything, in helping him replace his record.

I believe this case resonates with Sandy because of her interest in education affairs. It resonates with me because I know from experience how difficult it is to prove your identity without just the right sort of identification, and how difficult it can be to replace that identification should we lose it. I have to say that I can’t see that some the security measures we’re taking since the September 11 attacks have made us noticeably safer; what it has done is force us to jump through more and increasingly difficult hoops to prove who we are as we go through life. I’m grateful that we live in a country that hasn’t gone to China’s level of bureaucratic obstructionism. Yet.

Sandy says it best:

As a Canadian citizen, I just cannot imagine how anyone could steal another person’s academic record and that person’s identity without it being obvious. Why, for example, can Mr. Xue not simply get a duplicate file or a transcript from the college where he graduated?

Moreover, if selling a personal file is corruption so is accepting one as valid. Surely there are photographs or home addresses or other personal identifying information. In other words, no excuses should be accepted by Chinese authorities when a local official says some files were inadvertently “lost.”

Absolutely. Canadian citizens should never accept such shoddy treatment from anyone; least of all their government. Any incident where our government fails to protect our rights, whether by their own ineptitude or corruption, should be shouted at. Right, Sandy?

blog comments powered by Disqus