The two Canadians now detained in Egypt were out after curfew in Cairo’s protest-torn streets and arrested when they asked police for directions to their hotel, the Canadian government believes.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally questioned the arrest of London, Ont., emergency physician Tarek Loubani and Toronto filmmaker John Greyson. And junior foreign minister Lynne Yelich went further, saying the government believes the arrest of the pair is simply “a case of two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
It’s an unusual suggestion that a foreign government has locked up Canadians without cause. But the diplomatic pressure, including summoning Egypt’s chargé d’affaires in Ottawa twice, had not yielded their release by late Monday.
While Ottawa pressed for Egyptian authorities to show their evidence, a government source said they understand there isn’t much to show.
The two were passing by a demonstration in Cairo on Friday, after the curfew imposed under the state-of-emergency in Egypt, the source said. They went into the police station to seek directions to their hotel and were arrested.
The two men had arrived in Cairo Thursday on their way to Gaza – Dr. Loubani trains emergency physicians there, while Mr. Greyson, a York University professor, was considering making a film about a hospital. They learned the border to Gaza was closed, so they stayed in Cairo.
Dr. Loubani, who was born in the Palestinian territories, came to Canada as a refugee at age 10 and was raised in Bathurst, N.B. He goes to Gaza regularly to teach medical techniques, on his own dime, said colleague Andrew Jones, an emergency doctor at the London Health Sciences Centre. “He’d go off on these trips, and I’d give him a hug and say, ‘Don’t get arrested,’<TH>” Dr. Jones said.
Canadian diplomats in Cairo were expected to visit the pair in a Cairo prison Monday, but were unable to do so because of the security situation, said Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
In Yellowknife, Mr. Harper told reporters the government is “extremely concerned.”
“We don’t frankly know what evidence supports any such arrest, and we have expressed our concerns directly to the Egyptian government,” Mr. Harper said.
Ms. Yelich, however, went so far as to suggest in the current turmoil that Egyptian police swept up the two Canadians in a wide dragnet, and called for “all evidence against the two Canadians to be released.”
“I cannot say much about this case due to the privacy and security concerns of the two men involved,” she said in a statement. “However, we strongly believe that this is a case of two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The two are both experienced travellers, who had worked or visited in areas experiencing political turmoil. They had not travelled to Gaza together before, but Mr. Greyson, also interested in Palestinian issues, was exploring the idea of making a film about the Al-Shifa hospital, where his friend Dr. Loubani regularly taught.
Dr. Loubani has been arrested once before, by Israeli forces during a 2003 protest in the West Bank.
But he is, according to Dr. Jones, someone animated by a brilliant mind and altruistic motives, not political ideology. “He’s a selfless genius,” Dr. Jones said.
In addition to his work in Gaza, he volunteers at the Centre of Hope, a London shelter and service centre run by the Salvation Army. He believes in environmentalism, so he doesn’t drive a car, or even own a fridge, Dr. Jones said. He videotapes medical teaching sessions at the hospital so they can be posted on YouTube. Last year, he brought 15 London doctors to Gaza to help train emergency doctors there, and his goal is to build a formal training program there so those doctors do not have to be trained abroad, Dr. Jones said.