3 min

Second class citizenship

The trials of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the Toronto woman trapped in Kenya, continue unabated, even though DNA evidence has proven her identity. It seems that even though they’ve agreed to create new travel documents for her, the ordeal continues. For one, they won’t give her the documents until the day she leaves the country – and she can’t do that until the Kenyan court clears her of the charges she faces because the Canadian officials turned her over when they erroneously declared her to be an impostor. Then there’s the bail money she put up thanks to her mother to get her out of jail because of the charges she faced, but she has to stay in the country until the bail is returned – the Consulate won’t simply accept the money and forward it to her. And it could take a long time to get that money back. Oh, and there’s a slum landlord holding her luggage hostage until she pays him back rent for a place she had to put herself up in through this ordeal, and no, the Consulate isn’t willing to help her out either.

But what is most distressing about all of this is that no one is stepping up to take responsibility for this – not the department, and certainly not the Minister. In fact, the Minister has been virtually invisible in all of this, and once her Toronto lawyer started making noise to get her back in Canada, suddenly it was “before the courts,” so he really couldn’t talk about it – which has become a catchall excuse for things that never should have been before the courts to begin with. Once upon a time we had this thing called “ministerial responsibility,” and it was the principle by which the minister got to take credit for all the good work of the department, but he had to take the fall when things went wrong. But that principle has been slowly dying, and this government has especially given it the fatal blow – and Mohamud’s ordeal is just one more example of that.

On top of it all, the actions of this government are demonstrating that there seems to be two different classes of Canadian citizens when you go abroad, and they’ve devalued what should be equal citizenship for all. That many of these new “second-class” citizens in trouble abroad are not white is especially disturbing, even if one thinks it’s a stretch to lump Mohamud in with the likes of Omar Khadr or Abousfian Abdelrazik. The most obvious contrast to her ordeal is that of Brenda Martin when she was in a Mexican jail for a crime she says she didn’t commit, and because she claims that she didn’t want to pay Mexican officials the right bribes – something Mohamud has also alleged began her ordeal in Kenya. But whereas Martin got consular assistance, television interviews and the Prime Minister calling up the Mexican president, Mohamud was declared an impostor, had her passport destroyed and was turned over to Kenyan authorities to face charges. It’s scary business when the government can suddenly declare you to be an impostor and to put the onus of proving your very identity back on you when you’re sitting in a Kenyan jail cell. We need to be speaking up about this and letting them know that it’s not acceptable for this to happen to any Canadian – that our citizenship actually means something, and that something entitles us all to equal treatment.

Elsewhere, a furore has been erupting over part of the judgement of Ottawa’s mayor, Larry O’Brien, when the testimony of MPP Lisa McLeod was dismissed. The judge wrote “the defence was able to demonstrate that there were a number of rather significant things going on in her life when she gave her statement to the police. … She was commuting regularly to Toronto for her work, leaving her husband and child in Ottawa … I must assign it little weight.” Which a lot of people have taken to mean that as a busy woman, her testimony is less reliable. And while this has sparked some debate (with convincing arguments on both sides – the original article was a bit torqued), Green Party leader Elizabeth May issued a statement decrying the sexist ruling. May has a point – these kinds of statements aren’t helping to draw more women into public life.

Up today: Gilles Duceppe celebrates 19 years since he was first elected to the House of Commons, with Canada still as united as ever. He also scoffs at the rumours that he’ll retire soon, which means he could just be around to fight another election.