Canadian can't come home, Cannon says
In last-minute reversal, Ottawa
says citizen stranded in Sudan poses too great a national security risk
by Paul Koring
Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen, poses so
grave a threat to Canada that he can't come back,
Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said yesterday,
abruptly reversing the government's written promise of
an emergency one-way travel document less than two hours
before his flight home was to depart from Khartoum.
"I denied Mr. Abdelrazik an emergency passport on the
basis of national security," Mr. Cannon said at the NATO
summit in Strasbourg.
"He was crushed by the decision, he is incredulous;
... he thinks it is surreal," said Yavar Hameed, the
Ottawa lawyer representing Mr. Abdelrazik, who spent
nearly two years in Sudanese prisons.
Canadian government documents, marked secret,
implicate Canadian security agencies in Mr. Abdelrazik's
original arrest. Canada's antiterrorism agency and the
RCMP have both subsequently cleared Mr. Abdelrazik.
"The only plausible explanation is that the decision
was taken at the highest political levels," Mr. Hameed
said. "They will do anything to keep him from coming
home and telling his story."
Mr. Abdelrazik was to reach Canada today, after more
than six years of imprisonment and forced exile in
Sudan, on a ticket purchased by hundreds of supporters
who defied the government's threat to charge anyone with
helping him because he was put on a United Nations
terrorist blacklist by the Bush administration.
Instead, two hours before his flight was to depart,
government lawyers faxed a one-sentence letter to his
lawyers in Ottawa, saying he had been deemed a national
security risk and refused travel documents.
The reversal by the government - which previously
promised, in writing, to issue Mr. Abdelrazik a one-way,
emergency passport to return home if he had a fully paid
ticket - adds yet another dimension to the long-running
and increasingly Kafkaesque labyrinth that Mr.
Abdelrazik must walk.
"For this guy they are making it up as they go along.
... Parliament did not give the minister the right to do
this," said law professor and human-rights advocate Amir
In fact, the passport order seems intended to allow
the government to deny a citizen a passport - and
therefore the government's blessing to travel abroad if
he is deemed a security threat - rather than as a means
to deny a citizen the right, enshrined in the Charter,
to return to Canada.
"The government is now in violation of the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms," Liberal MP Irwin Cotler said.
"For six years I have tried to go back home to my
children, but the Canadian government took my old
passport and will not give me another one," Mr.
Abdelrazik said in a statement released as the hours
ticked down to his flight home.
Government documents, marked secret, implicate
Canadian security agencies in the original arrest of Mr.
Abdelrazik in 2003. In prison, he says, he was beaten
and tortured. He was also interrogated by a team of CSIS
agents and U.S. counterterrorism agents.
"The Harper government says I am an Islamic
extremist. This is a lie. I am a Muslim and I pray to my
God but this does not make me a terrorist or a
criminal," Mr. Abdelrazik said.
Designating Mr. Abdelrazik a national security risk -
which, in effect, maroons him in exile - represents a
striking change in government policy. Only 15 months
ago, Mr. Cannon's predecessor formally applied to the UN
Security Council to remove Mr. Abdelrazik from its
That formal delisting request, in December of 2007,
was made only after both the RCMP and the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service, informed the minister -
in writing - that there was no reason to oppose Mr.
Abdelrazik's removal from the so-called 1267 list. He
had been added to the list by the Bush administration in
Mr. Abdelrazik has been living inside the Canadian
embassy for the past 11 months - granted "temporary safe
haven" by the government, which accepted that he was at
risk of re-imprisonment.
"He's literally stuck in limbo," Mr. Hameed said.
Government officials rejected suggestions that Mr.
Abdelrazik was under de facto house arrest.
"Mr. Abdelrazik has always been free to leave the
embassy," said Daniel Barbarie, a Foreign Affairs
spokesman, adding that it was Mr. Abdelrazik's choice to
seek haven there.
NDP MP Paul Dewar said the "government can't have it
both ways, they can't say he is a threat to national
security and still harbour him in the embassy."
Less than four months ago, the government promised
Mr. Abdelrazik a one-way travel document if he could get
a fully paid flight home on an airline willing to defy
the U.S. no-fly ban.
"In order to facilitate Mr. Abdelrazik's return to
Canada, Passport Canada will issue an emergency passport
to Mr. Abdelrazik upon his submission of a confirmed and
paid travel itinerary," Lu Fernandes, director general
of the passport agency's security bureau, promised in a
Dec. 23, 2008, letter. But last week, Mr. Cannon added a
new - and seemingly impossible - condition.
When more than 160 Canadians chipped in to buy the
ticket and Etihad Airlines agreed to fly him, Mr. Cannon
raised the bar last week, saying Mr. Abdelrazik needed
to get himself off the 1267 blacklist, even though the
government itself had tried and failed.
"It's up to him, its incumbent on him to make sure he
gets off that list," Mr. Cannon said, referring to the
UN Security Council terrorist blacklist, notwithstanding
the specific UN exemption that permits those on the list
to return home.
"What has changed now is that [Mr. Cannon] can't
blame this on anyone else - not the United States nor
the United Nations. Now the Harper government has to
explain to all of us the basis for denying Mr.
Abdelrazik the right to return home," Mr. Dewar said.