Harper Consistently Embarrasses Canada Abroad

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The Toronto Star

Harper Consistently Embarrasses Canada Abroad

Israel and the U.S. have well-deserved reputations for standing up for their citizens abroad. Canada, under Stephen Harper, is gaining a reputation for failing its own.

Omar Khadr rots in Guantanamo.

Abousfian Abdelrazik, tortured in his native Sudan, had to be holed up in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum for a year before being allowed to return to Canada.

Bashir Makhtal – abducted from Kenya to his native Ethiopia and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly belonging to a separatist group – may or may not get Ottawa's help in fighting the verdict of a kangaroo court.

Huseyin Celil – a Uighur Canadian human-rights activist serving a life sentence in China after being convicted, in secret, on charges of terrorism – has been forgotten by Ottawa. Its waning interest has run in tandem with its increasing enthusiasm for business with China.

Perhaps the Harper Tories don't want anything to do with anyone tarred with the terrorism brush, rightly or wrongly.

But now comes the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud. The Toronto woman was left dangling in Nairobi after an airport official thought her lips did not match the picture on her passport. Rather than helping her, the Canadian embassy became a party to tormenting her. It has taken 11 weeks and a DNA test to prove her identity.

Her case wouldn't even have come to light had it not been for Star reporter John Goddard, who has kept at it, day after day.

Gar Pardy, former head of the consular services section of foreign affairs in Ottawa, and others see a pattern of discrimination.

They draw comparisons with Brenda Martin, jailed in Mexico but rescued by a minister's intervention and flown back on a government plane. She is white, others not. The others are also Muslim.

Star columnist Christopher Hume yesterday accused the Harperites of racism based on colour. "This smacks not just of prejudice but of apartheid."

Former MP Omar Alghabra, who was Liberal citizenship critic, says the "elephant in the room" may be the Tory belief that some Canadians are not "real" citizens and, thus, unworthy of consular help.

Dan McTeague, former Liberal minister responsible for Canadians abroad, says Harper shows no interest in Canadians in trouble overseas unless he is embarrassed into action by the media or the courts. Given that 9 per cent of Canadians are abroad at any given time, we need a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Dirty laundry

Protocol has it that when travelling abroad, the leader of a country refrain from washing dirty domestic laundry in front of foreigners or playing partisan politics.

Not Harper. Either he cannot help himself or he does mean to fully use the international stage to beam loud messages back home.

Sept. 2007: He's in Australia, from whence he berates Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.

The latter had said he couldn't deny women in niqabs the right to vote because the law did not let him. The Prime Minister accused Mayrand of subverting the will of Parliament, when, in fact, Mayrand was upholding it.

But Harper, riding a wave of bigotry in Quebec in time for three federal by-elections, wouldn't let facts or protocols get in his way.

Last month: At the G-8 summit in Italy, he blasts Michael Ignatieff for saying Canada was losing clout globally. In turned out that the latter hadn't said so and Harper apologized, rightly. But he wouldn't have magnified his problem had he refrained, in the first place, from domestic mudslinging abroad.

This week: Grilled in Guadalajara about his decision to impose visas on visitors from Mexico, Harper blames our refugee system.

That is seen by Tories as a Liberal legacy, when, in fact, it was Brian Mulroney who set up the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and the rules governing it.

Harper wants to tighten the rules. What better way to set up the coming changes than to use the megaphone of a foreign summit to badmouth the system back home?

Haroon Siddiqui

Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday (hsiddiq@thestar.ca).

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