Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy sits trapped in Cairo limbo awaiting retrial next week on trumped-up charges he spread "false news" supporting Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, his Australian colleague, Peter Greste -- who was convicted with Fahmy on the same charges last year -- is home in Brisbane after being released Feb. 1 from what he calls the "near death experience" of an Egyptian prison.
Why the difference? The Harper government. So suggests Fahmy himself.
Australia's prime minister, Fahmy told the CBC, spoke directly with Egyptian president Abdel el-Sissi on three occasions, pressing for Greste's release. Harper has refused to confirm whether he's spoken to el-Sissi even once. "We should have a prime minister calling Sissi over the phone."
Worse, Fahmy adds, recently resigned Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird played his usual bull-inside-the-diplomatic-china-shop role, insisting publicly during a visit to Cairo last month Fahmy would not face a new trial or further punishment in Canada if released.
But that was exactly the "diplomatic cover" Sissi needed to justify releasing Fahmy. So, instead of following Greste out freedom's door, Fahmy now faces even more prison time.
It's not the first time the Harper government -- advancing ideological agendas, or simply demonstrating diplomatic deafness -- has left Canadians to the un-tender mercies of foreign governments.
Ottawa only reluctantly repatriated Canadian-born child soldier Omar Khadr -- the last Western prisoner at the notorious Guantanamo detention camp -- after our Supreme Court ruled this country had a "duty to protect" Khadr, whose Charter rights were violated. The courts also had to force Ottawa to allow Abousfian Abdelrazik -- a Sudanese-born Canadian who'd been cleared of allegations he supported Al Qaeda -- to return to Canada in 2009. And even though John Baird -- as Transport Minster -- had championed the innocence of Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia for belonging to a terrorist organization, he did little as foreign minister to free him.
Why not? Makhtal, notes his cousin, "is a Muslim-Canadian Black man sitting in prison. I hate to admit this, but this is the reality."
So too is the reality Canada has chosen human-rights-violating Ethiopia as a "country of focus" for our international aid. Or that we support repressive Egypt on its "aspirational journey to democracy."
Last week, Canada changed foreign ministers. Now we need to change foreign policy too. All Canadians, including Mohamed Fahmy, deserve to know their country will support them when they need it most.
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.
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