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Mohamed Essam Ghoneim al-Attar, 31, a Egyptian-Canadian dual citizen convicted in Egypt in 2007 of spying for Israel and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

NASSER NURI/REUTERS

For now, the Department of Foreign Affairs seems uninterested in pursuing the suggestion of one of its senior bureaucrats: to scale back consular services for some Canadians with dual citizenship, who live abroad for long periods of time.

For Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian journalist who has been held for more than two weeks in one of Egypt's most notorious prisons, that's especially welcome news.

If Ottawa were to change the rules of consular assistance – along the lines of what has been floated – Mr. Fahmy couldn't count on Canada's help to free him from detention in Egypt's Tora prison. He has been held there, without charge, since Dec. 29, after authorities accused him of filming interviews with members of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

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Mr. Fahmy's plight highlights exactly why Ottawa needs to maintain consular assistance for all Canadians, regardless of whether they hold dual citizenship or live outside the country. His parents immigrated to Canada from Egypt two decades ago. His social media profile says he earned his university degree in Calgary. He has Egyptian and Canadian citizenship and has spent much of his career in the Middle East, working as a journalist for news outlets including the New York Times and CNN.

Moving abroad was a prerequisite for his professional success. (He is the English-language bureau chief in Egypt for Al Jazeera.) That doesn't make him any less Canadian, and Canadian citizens like him shouldn't be punished by being denied the assistance of Canadian diplomats at the very moment they need it most.

There's a lot of talk these days about so-called Canadians of convenience, who immigrate to Canada, allegedly only staying long enough to meet residency requirements, and then leave. Some benefits of living in Canada – provincial public health care, for example – are tied to length of residency or level of financial contribution. You lose them if you don't live here, and that's as it should be. But citizenship is different. It's binary: You are a Canadian, or you are not. Asking bureaucrats to somehow distinguish between "real Canadians" and "Canadians of convenience" would be vulgar, not to mention impossible.

Canadians like Mr. Fahmy should get the consular assistance they need. There's no such thing as a second-class Canadian citizen.

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