The City of Montreal made Saudi blogger Raif Badawi an honorary citizen on Monday, voting unanimously to award the distinction to the father of three who has been languishing in jail for nearly six years.
A ceremony attended by Mayor Valérie Plante took place without the blogger’s wife present.
Ms. Plante explained a scheduling snafu prevented Ensaf Haidar from attending the brief ceremony, but Ms. Haidar was in the spectators’ gallery later when councillors voted to grant the citizenship.
Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who had presented the motion alongside the opposition Ensemble Montreal, said he is hopeful the vote will carry the weight necessary to get other cities to add their support and keep up pressure to get Mr. Badawi freed.
Mr. Rotrand said he has also received assurances the provincial and federal governments would ratchet up the pressure.
“We want Saudi Arabia to know we are not going away, that there will be a political cost and an ongoing cost and the movement is not going to die out but grow larger over time,” Mr. Rotrand told a news conference.
Montreal wouldn’t be the first Quebec jurisdiction to grant Mr. Badawi the distinction – Sherbrooke, where his wife Ensaf Haidar and children have lived for the past few years, and the Montreal suburb of Hampstead have done the same.
Mr. Badawi, who is not a Canadian citizen, was jailed in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined the equivalent of $300,000 for criticizing Saudi Arabian clerics.
He received 50 of them in January, 2015 during a public flogging, but is not believed to have received any since then.
Mr. Badawi’s sentence has drawn widespread international condemnation and Amnesty International has called on successive federal governments to do more to free him.
Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler, on hand for Monday’s announcement, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the matter directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sought clemency and a pardon for Mr. Badawi in April.
“He more than just asked, he called for the release of Raif Badawi and his right to be reunited with his family in Quebec,” said Mr. Cotler, an international human-rights lawyer who has pushed for Mr. Badawi’s release.
When the Saudi royal was in Washington, Mr. Cotler presented him with a legal brief about Mr. Badawi based on Islamic law and Saudi law.
He said the crown prince told him he would consider the brief.
Ms. Haidar said it has been difficult getting information out of Saudi Arabia. A few months ago, she received word her husband was on a list for a potential pardon.
She believed it might come before Ramadan, but it didn’t materialize and she says Mr. Badawi’s morale is quite low as he awaits news.
Meanwhile, she says she is still holding out hope.
“Every year, I start with hope: I hope he’ll be with us at Christmas, I hope he’ll be with us on holiday,” Ms. Haidar said. “But until now, I haven’t received good news.”
June 17 will mark six years in jail for Mr. Badawi.
“This year, it’s enough,” Ms. Haidar said. “Six years, it’s enough for us, enough for Raif, too.”
Ms. Haidar is to get her Canadian citizenship in the coming days and Mr. Cotler says that’s a positive thing.
“Any action of that kind would signify the importance the country attaches to Raif’s freedom,” he said.