Commentary: Stranded and abandoned in Sudan, By IRWIN COTLER
By IRWIN COTLER
Globe and Mail
April 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
It has been nearly six years since Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese Canadian, was jailed while visiting his ailing mother in Khartoum. It has been nearly four years since he was released for the second time by Sudanese authorities after suffering torture but without having been charged. Yet, Mr. Abdelrazik is unable to return home, and has spent the past 11 months living in the lobby of the Canadian embassy.
Initially considered a terror threat by the Bush administration, Mr. Abdelrazik was made the object of a travel ban and placed on a United Nations Security Council watch list. More recently, however, on being released from a Sudanese prison, Mr. Abdelrazik was given a letter stating that it was “never possible” for him to be a member of al-Qaeda and that he does not “bear any threat to any international interests.” Indeed, both the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP have formally advised the Canadian government there is no reason to believe that Mr. Abdelrazik is a terrorist.
With the Conservative government continuing to refuse permission for Mr. Abdelrazik to return to Canada, only two possibilities present themselves: Either the government knows something our intelligence agencies do not, or it is simply being unreasonable.
Inexcusably, Canada has turned Mr. Abdelrazik’s return into a game of moving targets. The Security Council watch list expressly allows Mr. Abdelrazik to return home, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms compels the government to respect a citizen’s right to re-enter the country. Yet, the government’s first response was to refuse to issue an emergency passport to Mr. Abdelrazik. Then it said the passport would be granted if Mr. Abdelrazik could book a flight. Finally, knowing that Mr. Abdelrazik was destitute, it said the ticket would need to be fully paid before the government would act.
Mr. Abdelrazik has now accomplished everything the government asked. He has a plane ticket leaving Khartoum today confirmed. But just as the government refused Mr. Abdelrazik a passport for his Sept. 15, 2008, ticket to Canada, it appears it will ensure that today’s ticket home goes unused as well. The government’s new stand is that Mr. Abdelrazik must remove himself from the UN watch list – the same watch list that already allows individuals to return to their home country.
As Mr. Abdelrazik waits indefinitely to return to Canada, it is worthwhile noting that the pattern revealed in his case is as familiar as it is disturbing. From the case of Maher Arar – the dual citizen tortured in Syria – to the case of Omar Khadr – the lone Western national still languishing at Guantanamo Bay – Canada has repeatedly ignored its responsibility to defend the rights of Canadians abroad.
This issue is not a partisan one, as successive Canadian governments stood watch over our countries’ various detainees abroad. This issue is one of justice, due process and the presumption of innocence.
Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP and a former justice minister, is an international human-rights advocate. He is a professor of law (on leave) at McGill University.
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