Her case has raised a host of questions. First, who’s to blame for her 11-week ordeal? The officials at the Canadian embassy in Nairobi? Or the politicians in Ottawa?
If the former, would some bureaucratic heads roll?
If the latter, as has been the case in several incidents of Canadians stranded abroad, the Stephen Harper government has a lot to answer for: Is it racist? Anti-Muslim? Too ideological? Prone to micromanagement? Or just plain incompetent?
Whatever the reason(s), why have the Tories been so tin-eared to so much public outrage in this regard? Or is there a method to their madness, namely, that they ignore public opinion because they only care about catering to their core constituency of Conservatives?
Finally and more broadly, what responsibility does the federal government, regardless of the party in power, have toward citizens imperilled abroad?
In the U.S., the president is legally obliged to intervene:
"Whenever any citizen of the United States has been unjustly deprived of his liberty by or under the authority of any foreign government, it shall be the duty of the president forthwith to demand of that government the reasons of such imprisonment … The president shall use such means, not amounting to acts of war and not otherwise prohibited by law, as he may think necessary and proper to obtain or effectuate the release."
In Germany, there is a constitutional requirement that the government assist Germans in jeopardy abroad, no matter why.
Britain falls in between, with the courts diluting discretionary government power in the matter.
Canada has no set rules, only a long-standing tradition to go to bat for Canadians overseas. Sure, the policy was unevenly applied. But it was there. The Harperites have thrown it out the window.
They want to decide each case. That means micromanagement. It can mean discrimination based on policy or ideology. It inevitably means appeals and court challenges and, just as surely, stubborn and costly resistance.
The Tory government fought tooth and nail to prevent the return of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese Canadian, from Khartoum. It agreed only when the courts left it no more wiggle room.
It has been playing a deadlier game with Omar Khadr, holed up in Guantanamo Bay. On Friday, it was chastised by the Federal Court of Appeal, which ordered his repatriation to Canada. We shall see.
The government also forced a court battle over Ron Smith, the Canadian on death row in Montana, whom it didn’t want to help. The Federal Court ordered it to. Since we abolished the death penalty, governments routinely used to urge clemency. Not the Tories.
They have also quietly put the brakes on the transfer of Canadian prisoners from abroad to serve out their terms in Canada. Stockwell Day and now Peter Van Loan, as public safety ministers, have been rejecting official recommendations for such transfers. They’ve done so in about 50 cases, invoking national security or claiming that the person in question "poses a danger to Canada."
Gar Pardy, the retired head of the consular section of the foreign ministry, says that "previous governments used to treat everyone the same. Once all the legal procedures were complete with a Canadian case abroad, we’d ask for transfer and I do not remember a single case of ministerial rejection. Now it’s routinely rejected."
Why? "There’s no rationality. You can’t put a finger on it. With Stockwell Day, it may be a case of ideology or Old Testament righteousness."
This does not mean that bureaucrats are blameless. They can be boneheaded, too, as the consular staff in Nairobi seemed to have been with Mohamud. They may be ill-trained for implementing post-9/11 checks or overzealous.
Picking on the wrong person for the wrong reason (her lips) to crack down on possible passport fraud is bad enough; handing her over to a corrupt Third World judicial system is scandalous. (The innuendo that there’s more to her case than we know has no credibility, given all the lies told about Maher Arar).
More crucially, let not bureaucratic misdeeds obscure the systematic damage being inflicted by the Harper government on this fundamental aspect of our citizenship