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Eye on Ottawa: When Canadians get into trouble abroad


Eye on Ottawa: When Canadians get into trouble abroad

Several Canadians have, for one reason or another, been captured or imprisoned abroad. These include Amanda Lindhout, Brenda Martin, Mohamed Kohail, Huseyin Celil, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Bashir Makhtal, Ratnarajah Thusiyanthan, and Suaad Hagi Mohamud.

The government has intervened in the cases of Martin, Kohail, Celil, Makhtal, but has been reluctant to help in others.

When Abousfian Abdelrazik was imprisoned in Sudan in 2003 and again in 2005, the government refused his repatriation, even after his release, because of alleged ties to terrorism (he is the only Canadian on the UN no-fly list). He was returned to Canada in 2009, after the Federal Court ordered the government to provide him assistance.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud made headlines in 2009 when a Canadian embassy official in Kenya declared her an imposter and she was jailed and charged. She was granted bail, and then returned to Canada after the government was pressured into doing a DNA test that confirmed she is who she says she is.

Repatriation of prisoners

More than 200 people imprisoned abroad have requested repatriation to Canada. In cases of Canadians imprisoned by foreign authorities, the percentage of citizens abroad granted transfer to a Canadian prison has fallen from 98% in 2005-06 to 27% in 2009-10.

The government no longer seeks clemency in all cases of capital punishment. Since 2007, its policy has been to review requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Ever since capital punishment was abolished in Canada in 1976, every Canadian government has sought clemency for its citizens sentenced to death abroad. The change in policy by the Harper government, which was immediately denounced by the Canadian Bar Association for being arbitrary and discriminatory, has meant that some cases are ignored.

In the case of Ronald Smith, who has been on death row in a US prison since 1983, efforts to seek clemency stopped in 2007. In 2009 the Federal Court then ordered the government to re-start the appeals for clemency, calling the 2007 policy unlawful. The government has since introduced legislation that would expand the conditions that have to be met before a person can request a return to Canada, a move that is viewed by critics as consistent with a “get tough on crime” approach.

In the case of Mohammed Kohail, his duel Canadian and Saudi citizenships caused media in both countries to speak for or against his death sentence in Saudi Arabia. The government engaged with Saudi authorities, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs said he was pleased with the decision to revoke the sentence and launch a retrial.

Although international law and treaty obligations support governments in their efforts to demand due process for their citizens, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is sending the message that citizens can not expect to get support if they run afoul of other countries’ laws. Its web site is specific: “A non-Canadian charged with a criminal offence in Canada would be tried under Canadian criminal law in a Canadian court, and, if convicted, sentenced accordingly. Just as Canadians would not accept a foreign government interfering with the Canadian judicial process, the Government of Canada cannot interfere in the judicial affairs of another country.”


Held captive by kidnappers in Somalia for 15 months, Amanda Lindhout was released in November, 2009 after her family and two Calgary businessmen paid a reported $600,000 ransom. In terms of how much the government did in her case, Lindhout said that “I accept that they did what they could within the confines of Canadian law. Naturally there are certain policies that I do feel should change.”
Photo: Lindhout family

New Democrat Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar believes that consular assistance for Canadians abroad is inconsistent and unreliable. He is drafting legislation that he says would make the Minister of foreign Affairs directly responsible for consular services, and would clarify the responsibilities of the Canadian government towards its citizens abroad. It would also create an office to ensure that the law is applied consistently and objectively.

Canada cancels debt owed by the Republic of Congo

In May Canada cancelled nearly $24 million owed by the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Canada has now cancelled close to $1 billion of debt owed by the world’s poorest and most heavily indebted countries.

The Republic of Congo is the 14th country to get 100% debt relief from Canada. $1.3 billion in debt, almost entirely to Export Development Canada, once all eligible countries have completed the process. Cancellation of debt owed to Canada requires completion of the IMF and World Bank-led Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and comliance with its conditions.

Since January 2001, Canada has suspended payments on the debts of several impoverished countries, pending HIPC Initiative cancellation. In May the government also announced this now includes Côte d’Ivoire, which was not in the program because of the country’s conflict and political turmoil.

Debt relief for one Congo, but not the other

In the wake of the 2009 suspension of a Canadian mining company’s copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Canada has withdrawn its support for DRC debt relief through the HIPC initiative.

Finance officials representing Canada at the Paris Club last November temporarily slowed the HIPC debt relief process and the DRC’s associated IMF program, in an attempt to raise concerns over wider governance problems and issues facing foreign investors in the DRC in general. The Canadian representative also fought against debt cancellation by the World Bank, and then abstained from the vote at the World Bank Board of Directors when it was apparent there was no support for delaying the debt relief.

Canadian finance official pointed to the limited rule of law, weak governance, and lack of accountability in the Congolese extractive sector as reasons behind Canada’s reluctance to forgive DRC’s debt.

The DRC claims it cancelled the Kolwezi project because the main owner Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals, violated an agreement. First Quantum invested $750 million dollars in the mining project. First Quantum is seeking arbitration in an international forum.

Canadian International Development Agency cuts funding to Canadian NGOs and international health programs

Predictions that cuts to the Canadian NGOs Kairos and Alternatives late last year were warning signs of more cuts to come have been proven correct.

Canadian Council for International Cooperation

CIDA funding to the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), the national netwrok of development groups, ended in July. The proposal presented by CCIC in October for 2010-2013 was not accepted by Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation.

“Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see de-funding as yet another example of the ‘political chill’ message this government has been sending to the development community,” said Gerry Barr CCIC’s president and CEO. “What we’re experiencing here is punishment politics. Speak out against government policy and risk losing your funding.”

The CCIC funding cuts have caused alarm among the Canadian NGO community.

“Dialogue between the government and civil society is a fundamental element of democratic life in Canada. In its absence, the freedom of expression of the entire Canadian population is threatened. If nothing is done to reverse this trend, the cuts facing the CCIC and other organizations will result in a significant loss of quality of public debate in Canada,” Brian Barton, president of L’Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale, wrote in Le Devoir 10 June. “The funding of organizations such as CCIC pales in comparison with the billion dollars that the federal government is spending just to provide security during the three days that the G8 and G20 meetings will last. Is that not a contradiction on the part of a government that wishes to increase the effectiveness of ODA?”

MATCH International

On April 30, CIDA announced that it would not renew MATCH International’s funding. MATCH is an international woman’s organization that works for the empowerment of women and the practical enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms through civil, political, economic, social and cultural justice.
“On April 30th, CIDA informed MATCH International that our funding would not be renewed for our next cycle of projects. As CIDA funding represents seventy five percent of our total budget, this news came as a shock after a constructive relationship for more than three decades. In tandem with our partners and CIDA, we have collectively created a legacy of change for women and their families across the globe since 1976.” – MATCH International web site.

International Planned Parenthood

The International Planned Parenthood Federation has been waiting for a year for a decision on whether funding will be renewed. CIDA has funded IPPF continuously for decades, most recently providing $18 million for the three-year period ending December 2009. IPPF asked for a renewal of the same amount.

“We haven’t received any indication yet as to when we might receive a response. We continue to fund the shortfall from our reserves and so far services and programmes have not been effected, however, there is only a certain amount of time that we can maintain this from reserves before we have to start making hard decisions about reducing money to frontline services. Canadian funding accounts for approximately 7% of our total funds.

Our experience with the US Government’s Global Gag Rule under President G.W. Bush is that it is inevitable that services will be effected. Indeed, we had to close clinics and end major community-based primary healthcare programmes in Africa and Asia as a consequence.” – Paul Bell, Senior Communications Officer, IPPF

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, one of the world’s largest AIDS vaccine development groups, has also apparently been quietly dropped from CIDA funding. CIDA provided $80 million in support from 2001 to 2008.

«IAVI has not received any funding from CIDA since our previous agreement, which ended in March 2009. IAVI has yet to receive a response to our funding renewal request, and we continue to await further information on future plans from CIDA,» said Rachel Steinhardt, IAVI spokesperson.

In February the government scrapped plans to build an $88-million HIV vaccine pilot manufacturing facility in Canada. This was to have been the main project in the $111-million Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative announced three years ago by the government and the Gates Foundation. The decision to cancel the project frustrated researchers, and drew criticism from agencies like the Canadian Association for HIV Research.


Held captive by kidnappers in Somalia for 15 months, Amanda Lindhout was released in November, 2009 after her family and two Calgary businessmen paid a reported $600,000 ransom. In terms of how much the government did in her case, Lindhout said that “I accept that they did what they could within the confines of Canadian law. Naturally there are certain policies that I do feel should change.”
Photo: Lindhout family

Pauline Cordier – who has written posts on Upstream Journal.

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