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Lawrence Cannon in the House of Commons (Sean Kilpatrick)
Lawrence Cannon in the House of Commons (Sean Kilpatrick)

Gerald Caplan

Lawrence Cannon says the darndest things Add to ...

Few things make me more cynical about our politics than when the Opposition hysterically demands that a particular minister resign. Since it's universally known that Stephen Harper is the organ grinder at this carnival, what earthly difference would a minister's resignation make? It's tawdry politicking with no redeeming features.

But then there's Lawrence Cannon, ostensibly Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs and therefore one of the most senior members of the Harper government.

It seems only yesterday that Mr. Cannon was apparently doing all in his power to ruin the life of Abousfian Abdelrazik. As I documented in this space, Mr. Abdelrazik was trapped in the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, with no passport, no money, no mobility, snared by a bizarre UN blacklist that no one has ever escaped without the active intervention of his government. Mr. Cannon's contribution? He publicly advised Mr. Abdelrazik that he must get himself off the notorious 1267 blacklist. Our minister is clearly a big believer in the self-reliance of victims - even those strapped into a straitjacket.

Then he went and did it again for yet another Canadian who happened to be born abroad and - I'm afraid this needs saying - happened to be black and Muslim. For the past couple of months, Suaad Hagi Mohamud replaced Abousfian Abdelrazik as the Canadian du jour whose life the Harper government seemed determined to wreck. (Omar Khadr, still entombed in Guantanamo Bay, is the senior member of this club of Canadians who have been abandoned by their own government.)

I need to be fair here. This is not just another case where our politicians have again earned their place in hell. In this instance, Canadian diplomats share the blame for their shameful treatment of a Canadian citizen. And we know their names. Our High Commissioner (or ambassador) to Kenya is Ross Hynes, and the First Secretary (Consular) at the Canadian High Commission was, until a week ago, Liliane Khadour. If you've traveled, you know that in Kenya these can be Very Important Persons.

Highly unusually, Ms. Mohamud's identity was challenged by a Kenyan KLM employee when she was about to board a plane returning home to Toronto. Even more unaccountably, instead of helping her clear up this fiasco immediately, the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi turned against her. When an embassy wants to help you when you're abroad, as I've found, it can overcome most obstacles. When it doesn't, as Ms. Mohamud found, it can be life-altering. Instead of boarding the next available plane, she spent the next three nightmarish months being disowned by her country.

As it happens, Ms. Mohamud was able to produce enough Canadian ID to get into one of our spy agencies. But this was worth exactly nothing in Nairobi. The Canadian High Commission confiscated and voided her passport and sent it to Kenyan immigration authorities encouraging them to prosecute her. She ended up in jail for the next eight days.

(This is no time for a long exposition on prisons in poor countries, but take it from me you don't ever want to be in one. Let me put it this way: If a government of a poor country had a list of 1,000 priorities on which to spend some money, improving prisons would not make the list.)

Notwithstanding Ms. Mohamud's cornucopia of ID, here is what Liliane Khadour, then the powerful First Secretary at the Canadian High Commission, wrote Kenyan authorities: "We have carried out conclusive investigations including an interview and have confirmed that the person brought to [us]on suspicion of being an imposter is not the rightful holder of the aforementioned Canadian passport."

We are told that the Canadian government is now trying to get to the bottom of the Mohamud scandal. I trust that Ms. Khadour's notion of a "conclusive investigation" is being conclusively investigated. I wonder if she may not be an imposter herself, since she doesn't sound like what we expect a Canadian official abroad to be. (Or are we being naïve?)

But Ms. Khadour's role must not divert our attention from our political masters. The Prime Minister, at long last, made a statement promising to get to the bottom of this matter, but he claims he knew nothing about the case until last week. This is extremely hard to believe. Given its high media profile for several weeks, including almost universal criticism of the government, it's inconceivable that no aide brought Ms. Mohamud's plight to Mr. Harper's attention long ago.

Then there is Mr. Cannon. Our Foreign Affairs Minister has made few statements about Ms. Mohamud, but when he did they were beauts.

First, he told reporters that "there is no tangible proof" Ms. Mohamud was Canadian, despite all the tangible proof that she was Canadian. Then he said that "All Canadians who hold a passport generally have a picture that is identical in their passport to what they claim to be." Assuming this sentence means anything at all, it will be news to every woman, man and child who has ever grimaced at their passport photo.

But that's not the worst part. Mr. Cannon's special "Abdelrazik formula" was by no means dead. More than two months after Ms. Mohamud's ordeal began, as she languished in squalid Nairobi hotels with no resources and no sympathy or assistance from Canadian officials, our Foreign Affairs Minister said that she must try harder to prove herself: "The individual ... has to let us know whether or not she is a Canadian citizen," he declared. Apparently there's something about blaming the victim - his government's own victims, especially those trapped with no resources - that this strange man cannot resist.

I guess Lawrence Cannon is good enough for Stephen Harper, whose standards in ministers are modest and whose own role in this case is deeply troubling. But really, in all decency and for our country's reputation, the man should go. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he is the very definition of an impostor.

Gerald Caplan is a former NDP national campaign director and author of The Betrayal of Africa.

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