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Suaad Hagi Mohamud
Suaad Hagi Mohamud

Stranded woman's return 'our first priority,' <br/>Harper says Add to ...

The federal government will get to the bottom of why a Toronto woman ended up stranded in Kenya for nearly three months over false claims that she was an impostor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised Thursday.

But Ottawa's top task is to hasten Suaad Hagi Mohamud's return to Canada, Harper said after weeks of silence from his cabinet ministers about the case.

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"Our first priority as a government is obviously to see her get on a flight back to Canada," he said in Kitchener, Ont., following the launch of a federal regional development agency for southern Ontario.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has asked for a "full accounting" of how the Canada Border Services Agency handled Mohamud's case and will review its actions, he said.

"I think our officials and agencies are working hard to resolve what is not an easy case," Mr. Harper added.

He declined to speak about the specifics of the case, but acknowledged there were problems.

"My understanding is there were a lot of complications in this case, some of which you're aware of in the media," he said.

Foreign Affairs was also involved in Ms. Mohamud's case, but Mr. Harper did not say whether the minister in charge, Lawrence Cannon, would also look into how the matter was handled.

The Prime Minister was responding to accusations by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and others that the federal government has failed to "stand up" for Canadians by abandoning the 31-year-old woman.

Ms. Mohamud, who was born in Somalia, was unable to leave Kenya after authorities said her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo.

Canadian consular officials called her an impostor, voided her passport and turned her case over to Kenya for prosecution.

Officials maintained that she was not who she claimed to be, even after Ms. Mohamud handed over numerous pieces of identification, offered fingerprints and finally demanded her DNA be tested.

It wasn't until the genetic tests confirmed her identity Monday that Canadian officials began preparing emergency travel documents that would permit her to return to Toronto and reunite with her 12-year-old son.

From her hotel room in Nairobi, Ms. Mohamud called Mr. Harper's words "good news."

"I'm really happy to go back," she said.

Ms. Mohamud said she's been told her plane is supposed to leave at about 10 p.m. Friday and expects to get further information earlier in the day.

Ms. Mohamud's Canadian lawyer Raoul Boulakia said politicians are entitled to their comments, but they've come a little late.

"The really important time to stick up for her was in May, June and July," he said. "Sticking up for her after we've got the DNA test back is a safe battle to pick."

Mr. Boulakia also said he's frustrated he hasn't yet been given specific flight details.

"They're not willing to tell me whether they've actually reserved a flight for her," he said Thursday.

"I'm not likely to find out until tomorrow, but I hope they do get her on a flight tomorrow night - that would be what we've asked for."

There are still outstanding charges that are preventing Ms. Mohamud from leaving Kenya.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs, Emma Welford, said travel arrangements cannot be finalized until the Kenyan court decides on the motion to drop the charges.

The charges, which include using another person's passport and being in Kenya illegally, were laid as a result of Canadian consular officials calling her an impostor.

Canada has asked Kenyan authorities to drop the charges.

Ms. Mohamud and her Kenyan lawyer will be required to appear at Kenya's High Court, where Canadian officials will be present as well.

If the charges are dropped, a one-way travel document will be issued and Ms. Mohamud will be able to return home, according to Foreign Affairs officials.

Mr. Boulakia had tried to force Ottawa repatriate his client back to Canada within 48 hours through the courts, but cancelled after a deal was reached with Kenyan officials.

Ms. Mohamud was visiting her mother in Kenya and was about to fly back to Canada in May when officials stopped her in the Nairobi airport, claiming she was not the same person pictured in her passport photo.

After her case was handed over to Kenyan authorities, Ms. Mohamud spent eight days in jail before being released on bail without travel documents.

Results of a DNA test released Monday - one that compared Ms. Mohamud's genetic makeup with that of her son - showed a 99.9 per cent match between the two.

Canada footed the $800 bill for the genetic testing.

The case has raised questions of how consular officials determine the identity of Canadian citizens and whether the government is picking and choosing which Canadians it assists.

Another Canadian, Brenda Martin, was freed from a Mexican prison last year after her plight drew national headlines and put pressure on Ottawa to respond.

Ms. Martin spent two years behind bars in connection with an Internet fraud scheme run by her former boss, Alyn Waage, but has maintained she was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Amid mounting pressure from family members, friends and politicians, Mr. Harper personally intervened and called Mexican President Felipe Calderon to discuss Ms. Martin's case.



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