Egypt’s sentencing of Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy to seven years in prison is disgraceful, but hardly a surprise in a country where political repression has only accelerated under the leadership of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. What’s more striking is the apparent flat-footedness of our own government in helping a Canadian citizen in distress.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s only public response so far has been to voice his “deep concerns” about Mr. Fahmy’s plight. That was Wednesday, three full days after he was found guilty of terrorism in a farcical trial. Mr. Harper has not publicly called for his release. That’s in sharp contrast to other world leaders who have loudly denounced the conviction of Mr. Fahmy and two Al Jazeera colleagues. British Prime Minister David Cameron denounced the verdict as “completely appalling.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was “chilling and draconian.” Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister, said her government “simply cannot understand it based on the evidence that was presented in the case.”
We’d like to hope that Canada’s silence is part of a sophisticated strategy, applying behind-the-scenes pressure on the Egyptian authorities. And in fairness, while Canada’s meek words have failed to free the three journalists, so has the loud outcry from other countries. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said the government is trying to have Mr. Fahmy freed on appeal, or through a presidential pardon. (Although Mr. El-Sissi has already ruled out the possibility.)
The Egyptian authorities may also view Mr. Fahmy as less Canadian than he is, because he is a dual Egyptian-Canadian national. And that’s precisely why Ottawa should be all the more vociferous in standing up for him. Unfortunately this government has sent mixed signals when it comes to dual nationals. Its new citizenship law, which went into effect last week, is a case in point. Bill C-24 gives the government the ability to revoke the citizenship of a naturalized or dual citizen convicted of treason or terrorism. Ottawa should send a strong public signal that there is no such thing as a second-class Canadian citizen. Mr. Fahmy’s dual citizenship may complicate his case in the eyes of the Egyptian authorities; it should not compromise Canada’s commitment to free him.