Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was accused Thursday of incompetent, disgraceful conduct for not agreeing to issue Mohamed Fahmy a new Canadian passport while he awaits trial in Egypt.
New Democrat foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar levelled the characterization at the minister as he testified before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.
The angry words came after Dewar was unable to wrestle a commitment from Nicholson to use his discretion and issue a new passport. The minister reiterated what Fahmy was told in a letter this week from Canadian passport officials, that a new passport will only be issued when a court-imposed travel ban, which is part of his bail conditions, is lifted.
The Canadian journalist is on trial in Egypt on widely denounced terror charges and says he is crippled by Ottawa's refusal to issue him a new passport while he awaits the outcome of his case.
The 40-year-old's passport was seized by Egyptian authorities when he was first arrested in December 2013 and has never been returned.
Dewar said Fahmy needs the document to get married and rent an apartment and car while awaiting trial in Egypt. Nicholson said the issue of a new passport was the bailiwick of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
"Mr. Nicholson, you're married, I'm married, you remember what it was like, you had to actually go to officials and provide documents. Why aren't you allowing Mr. Fahmy to get married? Don't give me this — it's Mr. Alexander," said Dewar.
"Is that the standard of service that this government is giving to Canadians abroad? If it is, then you're incompetent sir . . . it is a matter of incompetence and it's disgraceful."
Nicholson did not reply, as Dewar's seven minutes of allotted question time expired and the committee moved on.
The minister left the hearing before he could be questioned by reporters.
But Dewar expanded on his remarks once the meeting ended.
"Either we've got a minister who doesn't understand his job — and that's incompetence — or they're not actually willing to offer a passport to him, and that means they're abandoning him as a Canadian citizen."
The Canadian Press caught up with Nicholson at the door of his limousine on Parliament Hill as he was departing for the day.
"I know the consular officials are in touch with him and I've got complete confidence in them; they will continue to work with him and, again I've complete confidence in the work that my colleague Lynn Yelich has done as well," Nicholson said.
A spokesman for Immigration Chris Alexander did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Yelich, the junior foreign minister for consular affairs, said in an email: "we have a travel document prepared for Mr. Fahmy once he is able to travel."
She said the passport law says the government "may refuse" a passport request if the applicant is "subject to a term of imprisonment outside Canada or is forbidden to leave a foreign state or the territorial jurisdiction of a foreign court by conditions."
Fahmy was working for satellite news broadcaster Al Jazeera English when was arrested in Cairo with two colleagues.
Fahmy was sentenced to seven years in prison after a trial that was condemned internationally as unfair.
A successful appeal resulted in a retrial and he spent more than a year in prison before being granted bail shortly after the retrial began.