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Still No Passport for Abousfian Abdelrazik, Despite the Government’s Promises

April 5, 2009

Having successfully protected Canadians from George Galloway, the Harper government has decided to give Abousfian Abdelrazik another kick in the teeth as a kind of encore. Abdelrazik is the Canadian citizen who has been stranded in Sudan since 2003, when he arrived there to visit his sick mother and found himself arrested on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda. The Sudanese released him in 2004, but various legal impediments have prevented him from returning to Canada. For one thing, he is on international “no-fly lists” of suspected terrorists. For another, Canadian officials have reached Kafkaesque heights of unhelpfulness.

When I first blogged about Abdelrazik’s case, Etihad Airlines was offering to transport him to Canada, but the government wouldn’t issue emergency travel papers. By February the government was insisting that he could have the papers, but only if he first presented a fully paid airline ticket – and anyone who helped him buy one, of course, might find themselves in trouble for helping a suspected terrorist.

However, many people were courageous and generous enough to defy this threat, and by the middle of March enough money had been raised to buy Abdelrazik a ticket to Canada on a flight leaving Sudan on April 3. The government had plenty of time to fulfill its promise of an emergency passport – and in the end, of course, chose not to. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon simply said that Abdelrazik had been denied a passport “on the basis of national security”, and announced that the decision would stand as long as Abdelrazik remained on the UN’s no-fly list.

This takes Cannon onto pretty thin ice, since a UN resolution apparently states that the list is not supposed to prevent individuals from returning to their own countries. More importantly, Her Majesty’s Government should not make promises to individuals and then snatch them away without the slightest attempt at an explanation. I would have thought that fidelity to one’s sworn word would be one of those old-fashioned virtues that only Tories (if you believe their propaganda) are supposed to possess. But this particular Tory government seems to feel justified in moving the goalposts whenever Abdelrazik’s supporters get close to the net.

Meanwhile, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar has been making widely reported accusations that only racism is keeping a passport out of Abdelrazik’s hands. This is a remarkably ineffectual line of attack, if only because the Harper government’s paranoid reaction to the slightest whiff of terrorism or radical Islam is a far more plausible explanation for their shameful behaviour.

Lawrence Martin, in the Globe, recently considered an interesting question: why aren’t the NDP getting more traction, now that the capitalist excesses they’ve always condemned have become the target of so much outrage? Martin blames a lack of media support, and there’s probably some truth to this. However, Dewar’s comments illustrate a second problem – that the NDP often seem more interested in hurling dubious accusations of various kinds of discrimination than in engaging constructively with Canada’s real problems.


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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2009 7:36 am

    Makhtal was left to twist in the wind for two years. His name surfaced–coincidentally–just as public outrage about Abdelrazik was starting to build. I blogged about that here.

    And we shouldn’t forget to add Abdihakim Mohamed to the list of beige Canadians marooned abroad. For him it’s been three years. No connection whatsoever with terrorism.

    It’s entirely appropriate to suggest a subtle kind of racism in play here, in which beige folks just don’t–matter as much.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      April 13, 2009 1:44 pm

      Well, maybe. Granting at least for the moment that all three men – Abdelrazik, Makhtal and Mohamed – have been badly treated, there are common threads other than the fact that they are “beige folks”. All three come from a rough corner of the African continent. Abdelrazik and Makhtal are Muslims, and I assume this is also true of Mohamed. Makhtal and Abdelrazik are suspected (however unreasonably) of involvement in different forms of terrorism, and Mohamed is described by the article you linked to as an autistic with “disruptive behavioural problems”.

      Might their race, taken independently of religion and culture, also be a factor in the government’s reluctance to let them return to Canada? Well, sure, possibly. But with so many other things going on, it’s a difficult case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and in my opinion hardly worth discussing unless one has a racial axe to grind. At best, it’s a distraction from the central issue of the government’s persistent underhandedness and dishonesty, at least in Abdelrazik’s case.

      Obviously, I’m not suggesting that autism, Islam, or being from a violent part of the world should debar a person from coming to Canada. However, the last two factors in particular seem at least as likely as “beige” pigmentation to raise the hackles of our present government.

  2. Kumiko permalink
    April 9, 2009 3:09 pm

    I only just heard about Abdelrazik’s ordeal this morning, on CBC. The more I read up and learn on this matter, the sadder and more horrified I find myself. Thank you for this blog post, and for keeping the discussion going.

  3. April 6, 2009 2:26 pm

    I can’t make sense of this one. I believe there must be something that the government hasn’t shared with us. How could the federal government risk having another Maher Arar case on their hands?

    And yet, from the media coverage I’ve heard to-date, it doesn’t sound like the government has acted in a transparent and fair way in their treatment of Mr. Abdelrazik. I hope that the media doesn’t let go of this story.

    If Mr. Abdelrazik is innocent, he should be on the next flight home. Even if he is guilty of something (and there is no indication that he is), then he should return home and face charges.

  4. April 6, 2009 4:54 am

    Your right, Harpo & co.’s actions on this file are indefensible. You are also correct that, once again, the NDP has adopted a specious and absurd position on the issue. Better had they simply focused on the fact that Cannon’s broken promises belie a duplicity of purpose that is unacceptable in sitting government. But no, once again they have opted to for the ‘sensational’ over just sticking to the facts. Pity.

  5. April 6, 2009 3:06 am

    I’d have to say that racism is likely a factor in this as well. I think the government calculated that Canadians just wouldn’t be aroused from our usual torpor on behalf of a brown man named Abdelrazik–as opposed, say, to a white woman named Brenda Martin, who had actually been charged with something.

    Well, we were. They thought wrong. The media have picked this up big-time, and a lot of ordinary, non-activist people have become involved. The government is looking dangerous and out of control.

    There’s a fair bit of disgust in conservative ranks too, if the blogosphere is any indication. Damian Penny and Jay Currie have spoken out. Mike Brock has, after going through the same process of elimination as I have here, suggested that racism is a factor.

    Since both CSIS and the RCMP (and the Sudanese government) have given Abdelrazik a clean bill of health with respect to terrorism, the latter cannot be taken seriously as a factor in Abdelrazik’s current treatment.

    Quite simply, they wouldn’t do this to a white person named Bob Smith.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      April 9, 2009 10:37 am

      In my opinion the comparison to Brenda Martin is a more than a little misleading. Martin was charged with fraud, not with anything related to Islamic terrorism. Despite Abdelrazik’s official “clean bill of health”, his name remains linked to suspicions of terrorist activity, and he has apparently acknowledged knowing Ahmed Ressam, the “Millennium Bomber”. Considering the basically paranoid war on terror mentality of the Harper government, I have no trouble believing that these factors are sufficient to explain the way Abdelrazik has been treated. It’s outrageous, of course, but race has nothing to do with it.

      A piece of good circumstantial evidence for my interpretation is that the government has been much more helpful towards Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen of Somali origin who is being held by Ethiopia on suspicion of involvement in a rebel group called the Ogaden National Liberation Front. He’s an African and a Muslim, but nobody ever seems to mention his name in the same breath as al-Qaeda’s, and that makes all the difference.

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