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Suaad Hagi Mohamud is shown in Nairobi, where she was detained for three months, in August of 2009. (Dominic Nahr / The Globe and Mai/The Globe and Mail)
Suaad Hagi Mohamud is shown in Nairobi, where she was detained for three months, in August of 2009. (Dominic Nahr / The Globe and Mai/The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

Official identity loss Add to ...

Canada's foreign service badly failed a Canadian citizen detained in Kenya for allegedly travelling on a false passport.

For nearly three months, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a 31-year-old mother from Toronto, lived an ordeal that only Franz Kafka - or perhaps a Canadian diplomat posing as Kafka - could have imagined.

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Ms. Mohamud was stopped by Kenyan officials when she tried to board a flight home to Canada from Nairobi on May 21. She was told she didn't resemble the woman in her passport photo because her lips looked different.

When a Canadian consular official came to visit her in custody, she produced several pieces of Canadian photo ID, including a driver's licence, a citizenship card and an Ontario health card. Still, the Canadian official didn't believe she was the woman she claimed to be. The official voided Ms. Mohamud's passport and handed it to Kenyan authorities, to help them prosecute her for misrepresentation. Three days later she was taken to the Canadian High Commission, where, in an attempt to prove her own identity, she asked to have her fingerprints checked against those on her citizenship application.

In the meantime, a Canadian official told Kenyan prosecutors that "conclusive investigations" showed the "imposter" was not the rightful passport holder. Ms. Mohamud spent a week in a Kenyan prison before being released on bail. Her hopes of being redeemed by the fingerprint records were dashed when it turned out the records had been destroyed.

Only yesterday, after a DNA test showed a 99-per-cent likelihood that she is the mother of her 12-year-old son in Toronto, did the government of Canada relent and promise to provide her with emergency travel documents.

Canadian officials are quite right to carefully investigate suspected cases of passport fraud. It has long been said that Canadian passports are a valuable commodity on the black market, and it is possible that the holder of a stolen passport could also have photo ID in the same name. It is also understandable that appearances can change from the time a passport photo is taken, which can raise suspicions.

But this case is shocking and unreasonable. It should not take more than 11 weeks to establish whether someone presenting themselves with a Canadian passport is the legitimate passport holder. No Canadian should be subject to imprisonment in a foreign jail because they cut their hair, or because their lips look different. Not everyone resembles their passport photo, or would want to.

We need a better system for resolving such cases, and a three-day guideline sounds more reasonable than three months. At a minimum, Canada owes Ms. Mohamud a profound apology. Canadian officials should also be forced to explain what steps were taken in this "conclusive investigation" and to make sure that Kenya drops its prosecution of Ms. Mohamud.

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