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Canadian rights abroad: Championed for some impeded for others

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Over the last few years an interesting trend has developed regarding the government's response to Canadians facing difficulties abroad. Circumstances have ranged from being taken hostage, incarceration without the right to habeas corpus, and being sentenced to death. In each case the government has acted differently illustrating its placement of priority, policy and ideology.

Recently, Canadians were joyous to hear the end of a four month hostage ordeal had come to a peaceful resolution for two Canadian diplomats abducted in West Africa. The effort was labeled by The Globe and Mail as the most complex rescue operation in Canadian history involving the RCMP, Foreign Affairs, military, CSIS and numerous negotiations with foreign governments. The government stated similar measures would be taken for any Canadian, diplomat or not.

It is true, the Government has extended extraordinary support to Canadians abroad for not only those kidnapped but also in legal trouble. The case of Brenda Martin is a prime example. Ms. Martin had been working in Mexico for an investment firm run by Alyn Richard Waage who was charged for fraud and money laundering in 2001. In 2005, Mexican police requested Ms. Martin to make additional statements regarding the case and subsequently arrested her, laying charges of money laundering and criminal conspiracy. In the two year ordeal which followed Ms. Martin remained incarcerated while her lawyer launched a failed constitutional challenge claiming Ms. Martin's human rights were violated because she was not provided an interpreter during her initial arrest and questioning. Following the challenge, she was tried, convicted and sentenced to five years for money laundering. During the time of the proceedings she receive a personal visit from the Prime Minister while in jail, numerous visits and calls from federal Ministers, and a call to the Mexican President by the Prime Minister on her behalf. A leaked government report details over 100 actions taken on Ms. Martin's behalf. Following her sentencing, a transfer agreement was quickly drawn up for Ms. Martin between Canada and Mexico. As part of the agreement, the Canadian government chartered a private jet to collect Ms. Martin and return her to Canada where she would serve her sentence (which resulted in immediate parole).

Unfortunately, the government has shown that it is very selective in terms of the rights and citizens for which it is willing to advocate. In the same year as Ms. Martin's return to Canada, the government announced it would no longer seek clemency for Canadians on death row. Then Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day, stated "We will not actively pursue bringing back to Canada murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law". The government also refused to lobby governments to convert sentences to life in prison. This stance is problematic for a number of reasons which have recently been outlined in a Federal Court decision. The chief concern is founded in the Conservative government's replacement of a universal policy of supporting clemency -- to lack of a policy detailed only so far as cases are evaluated on an individual bases. The problem of Minister Day's wording and proposed strategy of cherry picking those who receive diplomatic assistance has since evolved from the theoretical to the actual.

In January 2007, 23 year old Mohamed Kohail was involved in a school fight which resulted in the death of 19 year old Munzer Haraki in Saudi Arabia. By March 3, 2008, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced the Montrealer to death by public beheading with a sword. Luckily for the Kohail's family, Mohamed's case met the ‘criteria' for diplomatic assistance from the Conservative government and a number of appeals for clemency have been made. But what effect has the government's new strategy had on their effects? Once again, noting the wording used by Minister Day, "We will not actively pursue bringing back to Canada murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law". By issuing an appeal, the Canadian government has stated that Saudi Arabia is an undemocratic country (which it is) with an inadequate judicial system to support the rule of law. One must wonder if this has biased the Saudi's willingness to grant clemency and hurt Canada's efforts. Once again, such situations could be avoided by maintaining a universalistic approach.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government has done more than merely withhold support for Canadians abroad, it has also actively impeded efforts of Canadians to claim and exercise their rights. In 2003, while visiting his ailing mother in Khartoum, Sudan, Abousfian Abdelrazik was arrested for alleged links to al-Quaeda at the request of Canadian security agencies. He was jailed and tortured by Sudanese officials as well as interrogated by US and CSIS officials until his release in 2008. RCMP and CSIS reports stated that there was no evidence linking him to any terrorist or criminal involvement. While incarcerated in 2006, the Bush Administration placed Abdelrazik on the UN terrorist backlist as well as a separate US no-fly list which the Harper government tried and failed to have him removed from. Upon Abdelrazik's release he fled to the Canadian embassy where he has been living ever since.

The Conservative government had refused to issue Abdelrazik an emergency passport to return home unless he first purchased an airline ticket, something he could not afford. Supporters in Canada rallied and purchased the ticket defying Canadian law which outlaws financially supporting anyone on the UN terrorist list. Not long after, the Conservative government added the additional requirement that Abdelrazik must remove himself from the UN terrorist list -- something the government itself was unable to do, before he would be issued travel documents. This requirement seems arbitrary seeing how UN Resolution 13.9 takes measures not to interfere with an individual's right to return to their country of citizenship, even if they are on the UN terrorist list. Two hours before boarding his flight home, Abdelrazik was notified that he was being denied a passport on the ground of presenting a national security threat to Canada. Although no further explanation was given at the time, the Conservative government's approach has become apparent (yet inexplicable). Relying on accusations extracted from Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaeda leader water boarded more than 80 times under the Bush administration, Abdelrazik is being pressured to admit he is "close to Abu Zubaydah". Giving large quantities of information under torturous conditions, Abu Zubayhad's accusations have since been largely discredited. Most importantly, in blatant violation of international obligations and statements made by the Conservative government only recently, the reliance on testimony attainted through torture is inexcusable and criminal.

The most widely publicised case regarding the denial of diplomatic assistance undoubtedly involves Omar Khadr who has been left to endure torturous conditions for over seven years in Guantanamo Bay. Further commentary would only be repetitious of what has been extensively covered.
The AHRC deplores the actions of the Conservative government which have resulted in the denial of the right to return protected under numerous international human rights instruments as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Conservative government is encouraged to readopt the policy of universal diplomatic assistance for all Canadian citizens facing difficulties abroad in an effort to uphold Canada's international and domestic human rights obligations.

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