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Margaret Wente

The strange case of Suaad Mohamud Add to ...

The awful tale of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the single mother stranded in Kenya, has ignited outrage across the land. Last May, the Somalia-born Canadian was about to board a KLM flight back to Canada after visiting her family in Kenya, when an airline official questioned her identity. He thought she didn't look like her passport photo. Canadian officials declared her an imposter, and voided her passport. The Kenyans charged her for travelling with false documents, and she spent a week in jail. Two and a half months later, after a DNA test finally confirmed Ms. Mohamud's identity, she flew back to Toronto for a tearful reunion with her 12-year-old son.

"They picked on her lips to deny her re-entry to Canada," wrote a columnist for the Toronto Star, the news outlet that broke the story and has been riding it hard ever since.

By then, everyone - immigration lawyers, human-rights activists, editorial writers, and Liberal politicians - had joined the bandwagon. Ms. Mohamud tearily told her story to everyone in sight, and promptly launched a lawsuit against the government for $2.5-million in damages.

The ghost of Maher Arar looms large here. A Star editorial accused Canada of being a country that abandons its own. "Canadians are paying a high cost - in shame and tax dollars - for Ottawa's callous treatment of citizens who happen to be Muslim," it said. Liberal MP Bob Rae declaimed, "When you catch the wrong person you should say you're sorry and you should face the music." Commentators demanded the heads of consular officials, and expressed astonishment that they had rejected Ms. Mohamud's other proofs of her identity, including her driver's licence and her Shoppers Drug Mart card. The bureaucrats and the Harper government were denounced for everything from gross incompetence to racism. "This smacks not just of prejudice, but of apartheid," wrote the Star's Christopher Hume.

And then, two weeks ago, the government filed its response. It included an affidavit from Paul Jamieson, a consular official with the title of migration integrity officer. Mr. Jamieson interviewed Ms. Mohamud three times in Kenya, once by phone and twice in person. Many of her answers, he says, were contradictory. She couldn't answer basic facts about Toronto (such as the name of the lake on which the city is situated), or even about herself. She gave the wrong birth date for her son, and couldn't give details on the circumstances or place of his birth. She couldn't explain what she did for her employer, a courier company. She was also six or seven centimetres shorter than the height given on her drivers' licence.

"In light of the subject's numerous contradictions and admissions of ignorance, and her hesitant and evasive demeanour throughout the interview, I was satisfied the person in front of me was not the rightful holder of the passport," he testified. He guessed that the woman he was questioning might be her slightly younger half-sister.

I have no idea what the real story is. What I do know is that passport fraud is not uncommon in those parts of the world. Nor is it uncommon for fraudsters to carry a full set of someone else's ID. We should never underestimate the capacity of bureaucrats to bungle, or to take a messy situation and make it worse. But the story may be more complicated than it looks, and our rush to judgment may be premature.

Thanks in part to Maher Arar, a narrative has taken hold that Canadian authorities systematically target Muslim Canadians of foreign birth. Take the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-Canadian who was detained in Sudan for six years because he's on a UN watch list of terrorist suspects. A judge ordered the government to repatriate him. Perhaps he's been unjustly treated. But it's also true that his own account of his extensive travels to Pakistan, Georgia and Darfur - on innocent "humanitarian missions," financed by whom he will not say - is not entirely convincing. Not surprisingly, Mr. Abdelrazik is also suing the government, for $27-million.

The embarrassing collapse of the security-certificate cases is yet another example of how our country targets innocent Muslims. Or perhaps it's merely proof of the spectacular incompetence of CSIS. It's hard to know what to think. But these are complicated times. And maybe it's unwise to rush to judgment about what a racist, unjust land we live in.

 

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