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UN jurist delivers Abdelrazik justice Canada refused

Abousfian Abdelrazik was accused of discussing a plot to blow up an airliner.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

In the end, a respected international jurist gave Abousfian Abdelrazik what successive Canadian governments had denied him for a decade – an impartial hearing into murky allegations that he was a violent, dangerous al-Qaeda operative.

The jurist, Kimberly Prost, a Canadian former international war crimes tribunal judge, is now the ombudsperson at the United Nations dealing with petitioners seeking to get off the UN's al-Qaeda and Taliban blacklist. She pored over thousands of documents, sought the views of governments, probed the intelligence reports and demanded submissions from interested parties. After months of examination, Ms. Prost recommended Mr. Abdelrazik be removed from the list. All 15 Security Council members, including the United States, unanimously agreed, and it was done.

In Montreal, a relieved Mr. Abdelrazik, thanked his supporters, accused Ottawa of willfully abandoning him, and said he wanted to "live my life normally, look for a job, live my life as a normal Canadian."

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At the United Nations, Ms. Prost declined to discuss the specifics of Mr. Abdelrazik's case, nor explain why she recommended delisting, save to say her recommendation was based on a current assessment. "It truly is an independent review," she said, adding that member states had been forthcoming with often-sensitive intelligence. The ombudsperson's office has "increased significantly the fairness and the transparency to the process."

Removal from the terrorist blacklist means Canada must unfreeze Mr. Abdelrazik's bank account and it is no longer a crime to employ him. The UN's international travel ban is lifted, although countries can keep him on their own no-fly lists.

"I am a free person," Mr. Abdelrazik said. "Not because of [government]support, but because of the support of Canadians."

The new UN ombudsperson's process is still mostly secret. Mr. Abdelrazik doesn't know the specifics of why the George W. Bush administration added him to the UN list in 2006, and he doesn't know the evidence for his delisting.

"We don't know any more why he is off the list than why he was on it," said Paul Champ, one of Mr. Abdelrazik's lawyers. "We were happy to win the delisting," he said, but added, "I'm still not persuaded that this is a fair process."

Canada, which co-sponsored the creation of the list when it last had a Security Council seat in 1999, declined to back Mr. Abdelrazik's delisting petition filed through Ms. Prost's office last January.

"Canada did not make any effort to support Mr. Abdelrazik's delisting, despite the fact that CSIS and the RMCP cleared him in 2007," Mr. Champ said. The Harper government "would not stand up for the rights of a Canadian citizen."

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Mr. Abdelrazik said successive Canadian governments "abandoned me for seven years – and you caused me all this suffering."

He was first imprisoned in Sudan in 2003, when the Liberals were in power. Canadian documents marked "Secret" say he was imprisoned "at our request."

Ministers and senior Canadian officials have repeatedly changed their positions throughout Mr. Abdelrazik's six years of forced exile and imprisonment, until a federal court judge ruled Ottawa had trampled on his constitutional rights and ordered him allowed to return.

In 2008, for instance, the government offered explicit written assurances in a letter to Mr. Abdelrazik's lawyers saying it had backed a previous delisting petition. But it had not.

The renege was one of many. Lawrence Cannon, when he was foreign minister, once promised he would issue emergency travel documents if Mr. Abdelrazik could find an airline to fly him home. When supporters managed to buy him a ticket, Mr. Cannon refused to issue the travel documents only hours before the flight.

Whether such action was part of a deliberate effort to imprison him abroad and thwart his return may finally come to light through Mr. Abdelrazik's $27-million lawsuit against the Canadian government and Mr. Cannon.

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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