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Legal battle erupts over stranded woman's passport

Suaad Hagi Mohamud embraces her 12-year-old son upon arriving at Pearson airport in Toronto on Aug. 15, 2009, after a three-month ordeal in Kenya.

Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

The passport that stranded a Toronto woman in Kenya for months is now at the centre of a standoff between the federal government and the lawyer representing Suaad Hagi Mohamud.

Raoul Boulakia is taking his demands that the government immediately turn over Ms. Mohamud's passport and case file to Federal Court while officials in Ottawa remain vague on the whereabouts of the crucial piece of ID.

The demand is the latest twist in the debacle that has become Ms. Mohamud's life as her government first branded her an impostor, then consented to test her DNA and eventually repatriated her back to Canada.

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"[The government is]trying to pretend there were complications in this case," Mr. Boulakia said. "It was all nonsense."

The Somali-born woman was stranded in Nairobi for almost three months after authorities said her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo. When she turned to Canadian consular officials for help, they doubted her citizenship, voided her passport and turned her case over to Kenya for prosecution.

Ms. Mohamud returned to Canada on Saturday after the charges laid against her due to her citizenship being questioned were dropped.

Mr. Boulakia said he wants to get his hands on Ms. Mohamud's passport to see if consular officials were justified in doubting his client's identity. Ms. Mohamud's passport had been loaned to Kenyan authorities as her case was being prosecuted, but ought to be back in Canadian hands by now, he said.

"I want that passport back."

The Department of Foreign Affairs was tight-lipped on the matter, deferring inquiries about Ms. Mohamud's passport and case file to Passport Canada.

Passport Canada spokesman Sebastien Bois said anyone who has their passport seized by authorities for prosecution will have to apply for a new one.

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Although he would not speak to the specifics of Ms. Mohamud's case, Mr. Bois said when Passport Canada is advised a passport is out of its control, it is immediately cancelled.

In such cases passports are eventually returned to Passport Canada or to the nearest Canadian government office.

"Applicants do not have the option of having the passport returned to them," Bois said. "The Canadian passport remains at all times the property of the government of Canada."

The Canadian Border Services Agency is probing how Ms. Mohamud's case was handled, and spokeswoman Patrizia Giolti said details of the investigation could not be made public at present.

Meanwhile, Mr. Boulakia has asked the Federal Court to order the government to release Ms. Mohamud's case file and passport. In the process, Mr. Boulakia said a judge will have to comment on the government's conduct in Ms. Mohamud's case.

The legal proceedings are expected to take place in September.

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When asked about a lawsuit Mr. Boulakia remained vague on whether Ms. Mohamud would be taking the government to court over her ordeal.

"I'd like to see her get compensation, she deserves it," the lawyer said. "But I'd rather see her not go to court."

Ms. Mohamud's identity-battle saga has also generated a swirl of confusion over just who speaks on the woman's behalf.

Mr. Boulakia has tossed out claims made by a Nairobi lawyer assisting on the case who had earlier said Ms. Mohamud planned to sue the Kenyan and Canadian governments.

Mr. Boulakia said Lucas Naikuni was making unauthorized statements which had never been discussed with Ms. Mohamud.

"Her only concern when in Kenya was to get out," Mr. Boulakia said. "I guess he had his own ideas."

Mr. Boulakia said he was now waiting to see how the government planned to respond to Ms. Mohamud's case, adding that he wouldn't touch a penny of compensation cash if any were offered at present.

Another element adding to the fracas around Ms. Mohamud's story was the designation and subsequent ousting of a family spokesman earlier this week.

Abdi Warsame, the first person to greet Ms. Mohamud as she emerged at Pearson International Airport, had apparently been speaking on the family's behalf.

A mass email sent out Monday by Mr. Boulakia however said Ms. Mohamud was not familiar with Warsame, whose comments were not to be taken as the family's words.

"He meant well and what he said was nice, but he's not a spokesperson," Mr. Boulakia said. "She doesn't know him."

Mr. Warsame had said he thought Ms. Mohamud should consider taking the government to court.

When asked about his role as a spokesman, Mr. Warsame said he was not close to Ms. Mohamud but good friends with her ex-husband and had no qualms about stepping back as a public voice.

"All I was trying to do was trying to help Suaad any way possible that I can," he said.

As the spotlight continued to shine on her case, Ms. Mohamud lay low with her son at her Toronto apartment.

The 31-year-old is receiving medical treatment for a persistent cough and weight loss as doctors try to figure out what she might have caught during an eight-day stint in a Nairobi jail.

"She's extremely relieved to be in Canada and to be with her son," Mr. Boulakia said. "She's going through a lot right now."

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