A Saudi national charged with sexually assaulting two youths recently slipped out of Canada and returned to his home country, raising questions about how he left without his passport and if he can be brought back to stand trial.
Taher Ali Al-Saba, 19, was due to appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court earlier this month but failed to show up after being reported missing in August. Police contacted the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa and were informed Mr. Al-Saba had returned to the Middle Eastern country, possibly in August.
Police are in the process of issuing an international arrest warrant with Interpol, but justice officials aren't optimistic the measure will lead to the man's arrest and eventual prosecution.
"It's very frustrating and certainly the family, for them and for their children it's very difficult because they feel that justice will not be carried out," Crown attorney Catherine Cogswell, who was prosecuting the case, said Tuesday.
"It's almost like a horrible, horrible act has been left in limbo for them."
Mr. Al-Saba is facing two counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual interference involving a person under the age of 14. The complainants, a boy and a girl, are from the same family and police say they are both under 14.
Mr. Al-Saba, who was in Halifax to learn English, was arrested and charged on June 23, around the time the alleged assaults took place. He was released on $10,000 bail, but was forbidden from leaving Nova Scotia and had to hand over his passport to police.
What officials are now trying to determine is how the young student managed to get out of the country and presumably board international flights without his Saudi passport.
"He could have had false documents made, he could have had an extra passport," said Cpl. Mac MacIver of the RCMP's Immigration and Passport section.
"How the individual got back, I have no idea."
Officials with the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa refused to say whether they assisted Mr. Al-Saba in leaving the country or if they issued him another passport that would likely be required by agents checking his documents as he headed to Saudi Arabia.
Canadian officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs have also not indicated that they are aware of the situation or if they will intervene in the case in an attempt to bring him back to face the charges.
Trying to return him to this country could be difficult since Canada and Saudi Arabia do not have a bilateral extradition treaty that allows for the transfer of nationals charged abroad.
But a professor of international criminal law said that even though there is no such agreement between the two countries, Canada could simply request that the Saudis order him to be sent back.
"The Canadian government can certainly approach the Saudi government diplomatically," said Robert Currie, who teaches at Dalhousie University's law school. "Just because we have no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia doesn't mean they couldn't agree on a one-time basis to extradite this guy."
Ottawa could also ask Saudi officials to prosecute Al-Saba in his home country if their legal code contains an equivalent charge related to sexual assault.
Prof. Currie said with the international warrant, it's possible Al-Saba could be picked up and extradited to Canada if he travels to a country that shares an extradition treaty with Canada.
"If he travels much, there's a strong potential that he will be apprehended," he said.