Canada’s different classes of citizens

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In Canada there appear to be different classes of citizens as far as the minority ruling conservative government is concerned. An old nursery rhyme popular among American children has the following words:

If you’re white, you’re alright;
If you’re brown, stick around;
If you’re black, get back.

This seems to apply to people of color, especially Muslims in Canada. The latest example of this was the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a 31-year-old Canadian woman of Somali origin. After visiting her sick mother in Nairobi, Kenya, she was prevented from boarding a KLM flight back to Toronto on May 17 that landed her in a filthy Kenyan jail. A Kenyan airport official alleged she did not look like her four-year-old passport photo; her glasses were different and her lips did not match the ones in the photo. He had started by telling her he could make her “miss her flight,” clearly soliciting a bribe. When Suaad Mohamud refused to offer a bribe, her troubles began.

Kenyan airport security and KLM officials contacted the Canadian High Commission staff in Nairobi alleging that Suaad Mohamud might be an “impostor.” When Canadian diplomats arrived at the airport, she presented them a swath of documents attesting to her Canadian citizenship. They included a citizenship certificate with her photo, an Ontario driver’s licence (again with a photo), an Ontario Health Insurance Plan card, a social insurance card, credit card, bank cards, a Humber River Regional Hospital card, a Shoppers Drug Mart card, and a note from her Toronto employer. She even had a recent Toronto dry cleaning receipt.

Instead of helping a citizen in distress, Canadian officials rejected her documents, branding her an “impostor.” They voided her passport and sent it to Kenyan immigration authorities informing them they were free to use it to prosecute her. She was thrown in a filthy Kenyan jail where she languished for eight days before friends could offer bail. Yet her troubles were far from over. The Kenyan authorities charged her with fraud and for being an “impostor.” It was only after she contacted relatives and friends in Toronto who in turn contacted a lawyer that her case came to public attention. The media were generally sympathetic with the Toronto Star playing a leading role in highlighting her story and plight.

The attitude of various departments, especially Foreign Affairs and Canada Border Security Agency, has been particularly disturbing. Far from coming to her rescue as would be expected in such cases, various officials not only washed their hands of the matter but added to her woes by making unsubstantiated allegations against her. When her Toronto lawyer Raoul Boulakia suggested official compare her finger prints taken at the time when she had applied for Canadian citizenship, with ones taken now to verify her identity, various excuses were advanced. The government said it had destroyed the finger print records once her identity for citizenship had been confirmed. So, there was nothing to compare. Boulakia suggested a DNA test since Suaad Hagi Mohamud’s 12-year-old son, Mohamed Hussein, lived in Toronto. After two months of legal battles, the Canadian government finally agreed on July 22 to give her a conclusive DNA test, as recommended by her lawyer. Even so, Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, insisted on July 24, “The individual has to be straightforward, has to let us know whether or not she is a Canadian citizen.” He went on, “She’s saying so, but there is no tangible proof…” Suaad Mohamud had already produced several photo identifications and submitted affidavits but Cannon can be forgiven because before he entered parliament and was appointed minister, he was the mayor of a small town where they deal with such issues as zoning, sewage treatment and garbage collection –” hardly experience that would equip him to deal with international affairs or diplomacy. Even when the DNA results came on August 11 and conclusively established Suaad Mohamud’s identity, there was more stonewalling from the government. On August 18, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the astonishing claim that he learnt about the matter only a week earlier. Clearly, Harper, like his American friend George Bush, probably does not read newspapers. And like the now discredited former US president, does Harper, too rely on advisors to brief him? He is known to micromanage every little detail of government policy. Suaad Mohamud’s story was in the news for weeks with details of her ordeal known to most Canadians. How could Harper have not known?

Whether Harper was ignorant or is lying does not speak well for him. Suaad Mohamud was finally issued a travel document and she landed in Toronto on August 15. Her ordeal however is not over; she is suffering from various illnesses she contracted while in the Kenyan jail. The government too is not off the hook although it has become particularly adept at mistreating Muslim Canadians. Her case has raised concerns among other Canadians about whether their government would stand up for them if they got into trouble abroad. In fact successive governments have acted in a manner that has jeopardized the lives of Canadians. The Harper government adamantly refuses to seek the extradition of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay where he has languished since October 2002. He was only 15 when captured in the Afghan village of Ayub Khel in eastern Afghanistan. With two bullet wounds in his chest, Khadr was denied medication and endlessly tortured –” subjected to sleep deprivation, held in extremely stressful positions, chained to the floor and even dogs were set upon him –” yet the government insists that the US legal process must take its course. This so-called legal process –” tainted military tribunal –” has even been denounced by American lawyers, military and civilian.

There have been others –” Abousfian Abdelrazik, for instance –” who languished in Sudan for five years on the false charge that he was an al-Qaeda operative. He was tortured by the Sudanese government and when the charges proved false, he was let go. He sought refuge in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum but the government would not issue him a passport. Ottawa was finally ordered by the court to produce him. Abdelrazik returned to Canada last June. The cases of Maher Arar, and that of Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El Maati also stand out shedding particular light on the egregious behaviour of successive Canadian governments. All were tortured overseas with the complicity of their own government. And all happen to be Muslims. With the exception of Maher Arar, no apology or compensation has been offered to any of them. There is persistent stonewalling by the government. Each of the three individuals was falsely labelled as alleged threat to Canada’s “national security,” and ended up in Syrian torture chambers (and, in one case, Egyptian torture chambers as well) where they were interrogated and tortured based on questions that came from Canada. A problematic secret federal review of their cases (The Iacobucci Inquiry, which unfortunately excluded the men, their lawyers, the press, and public from participating) nonetheless found that Canadian agencies were complicit in the men’s overseas detention, interrogation, and torture.

Last June, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security of the House of Commons called for an immediate apology for all thee men, along with compensation “for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered.” The committee released a report that also called on the federal government to “do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to” the three men and their family members.

The pattern of mistreatment and abuse of Muslims is so persistent and the callousness of the Canadian government, indeed successive governments, is so glaring that one cannot but conclude that Muslims are the target of a deliberate campaign. Not only Muslims but even fair-minded mainstream commentators have concluded that there are different classes of citizens in Canada today. In a stinging critique of government policy, Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star wrote in his August 12 column titled: “Is citizenship now defined by the colour of your skin?” It is worth quoting Hume at some length,

“But it is a point worth remembering, especially in the face of mounting evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is determined to create different categories of citizenship. According to the administration’s new meaning of Canadian citizenship, the main qualification is not residence, place of birth, oath of allegiance or passport –” it’s the colour of your skin.

“And in Canada today, God help you if you’re not white, because the federal government sure won’t. Indeed, that government creates these problems in the first place.

“This isn’t just another political scandal; this is cause for deep national shame. This smacks not just of prejudice, but of apartheid.”

Indeed.

Only a few years earlier, Brenda Martin, a white Canadian woman was convicted and imprisoned in Mexico on drug trafficking charges. The Canadian government not only intervened with the Mexican authorities but a federal minister sent his private plane to fetch her from the Mexican jail. In the case of Suaad Mohamud, Maher Arar, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin, Ahmad El Maati and Omar Khadr, the government has a very different attitude. In fact, it has been complicit in their abuse and torture.

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