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Ottawa says it won’t grant imprisoned Saudi blogger Canadian citizenship

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion talks with reporters at a cabinet retreat at the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, N.B., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Trudeau government says it won't grant imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi Canadian citizenship, arguing this would not help the case of a man sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for blasphemy.

Mr. Badawi's spouse and their three children were granted sanctuary in Canada last year and now live in Sherbrooke, Que. Ensaf Haidar, speaking to The Globe and Mail last week, said Canada must do more to help her husband and said "the first thing" it could do now is give Mr. Badawi a Canadian passport.

She argued Canadian citizenship would give Ottawa more standing to push for his release.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion disagrees. Speaking after a cabinet retreat in southwestern New Brunswick Tuesday, he said he doesn't believe Canadian citizenship would improve Mr. Badawi's situation.

"As a way to release him, it may not be very helpful because Saudi Arabia does not recognize dual citizenship," he said.

"We don't think this would be an additional reason for them to consider to release him."

Mr. Dion said the government of Quebec has pledged to give Mr. Badawi sanctuary if he is set free.

Granting Ms. Haidar's request could complicate Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia and jeopardize a $15-billion deal to sell weaponized armoured vehicles to Riyadh over 14 years.

(The Saudi arms deal: A primer on what we've learned so far)

Critics of the business transaction have cited Riyadh's treatment of Mr. Badawi, and the mass execution this year that included a popular dissident Muslim cleric, as examples of why Ottawa should not broker and condone a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

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Canadian citizenship could give Canada more leverage to keep tabs on Mr. Badawi.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper used to say that Canada's influence in Mr. Badawi's case was limited because the writer was not a Canadian citizen.

Ms. Haidar said last week that an international campaign to free her husband has "given a lot of emotional and psychological support" and demonstrated that "the world is on our side"

But, she added, it has not yielded concrete results. "No real change has happened."

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, has said a Canadian passport could help.

"Amnesty International continues to urge the Canadian government to explore all possible strategies for securing Mr. Badawi's release, allowing him to reunite with his family in Canada. A grant of citizenship, further to his wife Ensaf Haidar's request, could boost the effectiveness of Canada's pleas on his behalf."

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Ms. Haidar, who met with Mr. Trudeau last year, months before the election campaign that vaulted him to power, said Saudi officials recently cut off all communications between her and Mr. Badawi after they moved him to a new prison.

His wife says "there are no words in the world that can describe how badly" she feels right now, adding that Mr. Badawi has high blood pressure and she is very worried about his health.

She said the punishment meted out to her husband is completely unfair. "All Raif did was give his opinion. He did not insult religion or the government," she said. "What disaster or terror did Raif cause? He is a peaceful person who expressed himself peacefully."

Mr. Badawi turned 32 last week.

Mr. Trudeau is being advised in briefing books to strengthen economic ties with Saudi Arabia because it would be good for business and Riyadh is an influential regional power.

But the Liberals face widespread criticism over the combat-vehicle deal, which is still in its early stages.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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