War on Civil Liberties: Canadian Citizen Abandoned by His Government

The Canadian government has really had it in for Abousfian Abdelrazik. Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-Canadian, went back to Sudan in August, 2003 to visit his sick mother, but he was thrown in jail, "at our request," according to a document from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). He claims to have been beaten in prison. He was released the following year, only to be reincarcerated again in November, 2005, for another seven months. Sudanese authorities told him that he was being held at the request of Canadian and American governments.

CSIS suspected Abdelrazik of being a member of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Montreal, of which Ahmed Ressam, the millennium bomber who planned to blow up the Los Angeles airport, was a member. He acknowledges to having known Ressam. Because of these suspicions, he is still in Khartoum, but now in the Canadian embassy, which, in their words, is providing "temporary safe haven." The case has come to prominence due to the investigative reporting of the Toronto Globe and Mail.

When they took him into custody, the Sudanese took his passport and handed it over to the Canadian embassy. It expired during his incarceration, and the embassy has refused to renew it. In a secret Canadian government document offering guidance about how questions concerning him should be handled, a question about his right as a citizen to return to Canada is posed. The answer is that he is so entitled, but a travel document cannot be issued "in the absence of a confirmed itinerary."

Why can there be no "confirmed itinerary"? Because his name is on no-fly lists and on an Interpol list of terrorist suspects. When Canadian parliamentarians were in Khartoum, giving the potential opportunity for him to return with them to Canada, he was not welcomed aboard. Aileen Carroll, who was the minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, visited Khartoum in September, 2004, and the Sudanese government suggested that he should fly back on her government jet. The suggestion was rejected, the excuse being that he would be deemed inadmissible to countries where the plane would need to land en route back to Canada.

That November, the then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin was in the Sudanese capital, but Abdelrazik was blocked from seeing him and was instead thrown back in prison when he said he wanted to talk to Martin about his situation. Again, no ride back. This March, Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier visited Khartoum, and his Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai interrogated him but did not offer him transportation home.

This case provided the ironic spectacle of Sudan, of all places, cautioning Canada about human rights. The Canadian embassy in Khartoum told Ottawa in 2004 that "Sudan realized. . . that keeping an innocent man in detention was a human-rights violation." That same year, Sudan offered to provide a plane to return him to Canada, but Canada found a way to thwart the offer. Ottawa instructed their embassy that "No Cdn escort will be provided. The Canadian government will not contribute to the cost."

Ottawa has been more concerned with keeping the case secret than in assisting Abdelrazik to return home. In fact, they wanted him to remain stranded in Sudan. Odette Gaudet-Fee, a high official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, wrote to the embassy in Khartoum that "I find it unethical to hold him like this in limbo." Yet, instead of assisting his return, Canada developed a question and answer guide should anyone ask about the case. Well, the case is now public, and things are beginning to happen.

The Department of Foreign Affairs now assures Abdelrazik’s lawyer Yavar Hameed that Canada is trying to get him de-listed from the Interpol terrorist list. Hameed, not satisfied with the slowness and obstructions characteristic of Canada’s behaviour in this matter, is now suing Ottawa to force Canada to fly him home. While the case could take months to go through the courts, the move to file the action constitutes additional pressure on the Conservative government.

Abdelrazik is suffering ill health, according to information from Sudan. In the meantime, family members in Montreal are speaking out. Wafa Sahnine, his step-daughter, daughter of his deceased first wife, is pleading for him to be brought home to be with her 14-year-old sister. His ex-wife, Myriam St.-Hilaire, who separated from him during his long sojourn in the Sudan, also wants him back, to be a father to their daughter. She says that he is no terrorist, just a Muslim.

This case raises a number of serious concerns. The first is the role of not one but two Canadian governments in keeping a citizen in forced exile. Canada even encouraged his incarceration by a brutal regime notorious for human rights abuses, a government that even lectured Canada about human rights! Hameed compares his client’s treatment to the notorious rendition of Maher Arar, sent by the United States to be tortured in Syria.

Second is the duplicity exhibited by Ottawa in dealing with his family, telling them to be patient, that there are complications, that it will take a bit more time to iron things out, etc. The government’s treatment of the family is an example of bureaucratic cold-hearted brutality; the banality of evil, to use Hannah Arendt’s phrase.

Third is the issue of Abdelrazik’s possible terrorist involvement. He denies having trained in Afghanistan, an allegation made against him, and he claims an innocent acquaintanceship with Ahmed Ressam. If the government has hard evidence against him, let it bring him to trial and to justice. What has been happening for the last five years cannot be called justice.

Fourth is the question of what all of this means for the rights of Canadians. Is the government committed to protecting its citizens, or is it prepared to assist in depriving them of their rights when it finds it convenient? This case in which a citizen’s rights have been blatantly violated directly involved members of Parliament, even a Prime Minister.