Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another brown exile returns

Our fellow-citizen Abdihakim Mohamed is finally home, after a three-year exile imposed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. He's not the first victim of what appears to be a selective return policy, and he's not likely to be the last.

After a six-year ordeal, Abousfian Abdelrazik was permitted to return to his country earlier this year, after a federal court slammed the Harper government for its high-handed treatment of the man. He is still not legally permitted to work in his own country.

Then there was Suaad Hagi Mohamud, allegedly an impostor, who was finally allowed to return to Toronto from Kenya after a public outcry and a conclusive DNA test. Despite selective leakage from the government, it has never been fully explained how both the real Mohamud and a supposed "impostor" were allegedly able to frequent the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi during the long homeward struggle--with no one noticing the difference.

A pity they couldn't all have been named "Bob Smith" or "Brenda Martin," and flown home in jets at the taxpayers' expense. No such luck for Mohamed's mother, who has worked two jobs as a cleaner to finance her legal battle. And these struggles seemingly have no end: she has now been advised by Passport Canada that if she applies for a new passport for the autistic Abdihakim, she might be prosecuted for assisting an impostor to enter the country!

Each one of these exiled Canadians managed to acquire media attention that unarguably went a long way in rescuing them. In the case of Abdelrazik, it was the Globe and Mail's Paul Koring, who simply never let go. Hagi Mohamud attracted the attention of the Toronto Star's John Goddard.
And the Ottawa Citizen's Kate Heartfield broke the Mohamed story last February, staying on it until today. CBC's The Current picked it up in June, and CBC News reported on the case in August.

But this raises a fundamental question: why should certain Canadians require what amounts to media advocacy for them to be able to exercise the same rights as their fellow-citizens? How has two-tier citizenship come into existence under this government, despite the Charter of Rights and all that guff therein about equality before the law?

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

And there's that guaranteed right to return which most of us take for granted--and the right to gain a livelihood as well:

6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

Rights to move and gain livelihood

(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

(a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

(b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.

Tell that to Abdelrazik, after six years, tortured by the Sudanese with Canadian complicity, and then effectively kept in a cupboard in the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, where they refused to concede that he even existed, returning letters and parcels sent to him there. As noted, he is still not legally permitted to work; nor may he receive assistance. Every time someone provides him with groceries, he or she effectively breaking the federal United Nations Act--because, in a situation described by a federal court as Kafkaesque, he remains on the UN no-fly list. And there is simply no practical means of getting him off it without official Canadian intervention. Under this government, good luck with that.

Meanwhile Omar Khadr languishes in Guantanamo. The Harper administration, which fought tooth and nail against repatriating Abdelrazik, which unconscionably dragged its heels for three years in the case of Abdihakim Mohamed, and which separated Suaad Hagi Mohamud from her son for months despite her insistence on a DNA test, has dug in for the long haul in his case too.

It would be fitting to end on a positive note: the news about our latest returned exile comes to us on Human Rights Day. In Canada we should be able to celebrate that day all year round. But not, it seems, if you're the wrong kind of citizen. And so, while we welcome back Abdihakim, we are left wondering: how many more of the latter are waiting to be discovered by inquisitive journalists?

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