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Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)
Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)

Rex Murphy

An ordeal that deserves our attention Add to ...

The case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud has been in the news a lot, and deserves to have been. Most Canadians are already familiar with the key details of her story. Attempting to leave Kenya on May 21, she was stopped by Kenyan officials claiming that she didn't match her passport photograph. It has also been reported Ms. Mohamud was asked for a bribe to allow her to board the plane she was scheduled to travel on back to Canada and she rebuffed the attempt.

The next day, Canadian officials in Nairobi confiscated her passport in the face of her having offered some lesser - but still strong - evidence of her identity in the form of her driver's licence and other personal documents. They went further and declared her an imposter, and handed her passport over to Kenyan authorities for prosecution. They declared they had carried out "conclusive" investigations to that effect. In the end, she spent eight days in jail, managed to arrange for bail and went through a nightmarish three months, living in slum hotels and trying to prove, mainly I assume to the Canadian authorities, that she was … herself.

Kafka wrote grim, grey novels bristling with the menace of anonymous, shrouded officialdom just so we could have an adjective for this woman's plight. As also most Canadians know, the first and most bitter part of her story has concluded - not happily, that is too much to say - but safely. After nothing less than DNA tests proved she was who in fact she is. The delights of the slum hotels and the threat of being abandoned or stranded are behind her. She is back in Canada and though ill from the experience manifesting, as Christie Blatchford noted earlier this week, a quite resilient cheerfulness.

But both she and her lawyer have indicated a very proper determination to find out what went on here. (She is also, as of yesterday, suing the federal government.) This is not a story that should be allowed to fade merely because the original flare of its "news" is over. What was this "conclusive investigation" on which, apparently, our Canadian authorities acted so confidently? How "conclusive" could it have been, when it was so very wrong?

Just because it has turned out "okay," so to speak, there is no excuse for not getting an exact account of how this nightmare was set in motion and what the role of Canada's overseas officials had in either contributing to it - or, for the facts are by no means in - alleviating it.

The minister responsible, Lawrence Cannon, perhaps unavoidably given the scope of attention the story has received, has pledged to get to the bottom of it and commissioned a report. This encouraging pledge is a little undermined by his less than vivid, less than urgent, language on the matter.

"We'll wait for the report," he has said, and "once the report has been tabled, we will look at it and if there are recommendations - which I suspect there will be - we'll see how we put those recommendations in place." He "suspects" there will be "recommendations" and he'll "see" how to put them in place. The buzzing sound you hear in that flat language is the toneless noise politicians make when they're whistling the great fallback melody of "we hope all this is just going to go away."

It should not be allowed to. Any investigation into so particular a matter has features that are not present in the typical government inquiry. This is not the vast and cluttered landscape of the sponsorship scandal, or the infinite unfoldings of Karlheinz " Scheherazade" Schreiber. An individual Canadian citizen, caught up either in error or in a petty attempt at bribery extortion at a foreign airport, found herself declared an "imposter" on the basis of a "conclusive investigation" by Canadian consular officials.

The chain of events is limited. The numbers of people involved are small. What happened, and what did not happen - what was not done that might have been done - these are easily determined and may be so in a short time. The Canadian public should be told how Suaad Hagi Mohamud was put in so perilous a circumstance, virtually abandoned for almost three months, placed in considerable jeopardy, her family tormented, when - at least on the surface - it could very easily be established that she was who she claimed to be.

The first duty of the state, the first let us emphasize, is the safety of its citizens. In this case, Ms. Mohamud was in a situation of potentially the deepest risk and the public should learn to what, if any, degree the performance of our government's officials contributed to it. The minister responsible should be as eager as any of us to make public that accounting once a proper inquiry has been carried out.

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