His name is Abousfian Abdelrazik, but it could as easily be Joseph Smith, a Canadian Everyman. He is a citizen denied the right to return to his country by the Canadian government without explanation; for the past year he has languished in Canada's embassy in Khartoum. If Canada can dismiss his citizenship so arbitrarily, the currency of Canadian citizenship is devalued, and the rule of law degraded.
Mr. Abdelrazik, an Everyman? Some Canadians may object. It is not every Canadian who has been publicly labelled an al-Qaeda recruiter by the United States government, as he was in 2006. It is not every Canadian who would be jailed – twice – in Sudan, and at Canada's request.
But any Canadian who leaves this country to work, travel or study may face an accusation of serious criminality abroad. Will Canada insist on due process for them if they are denied it? Will Canada be the one, as in this case, to deny due process and basic fairness?
The alleged terrorist Abousfian Abdelrazik, with his long white beard and the traditional white robe and kufi cap of a practising Muslim, watching television to pass the time behind the embassy's concrete walls, is the test of Canada's commitment to the rule of law and the value of citizenship.
TORTURE BEARS FRUIT
Canada seems quite content to apply the fruits of torture against Mr. Abdelrazik.
In a document filed with the Federal Court, where Mr. Abdelrazik is pressing for the right to return to Canada, the government asked him about his alleged association with Abu Zubaydah. That allegation probably emerged from the U.S. interrogations of Mr. Zubaydah, who is not only a key member of al-Qaeda but also a central figure in the use by the U.S. of torture techniques, having been waterboarded (a near-drowning technique) 80 times. At the very moment when the U.S. is searching its soul over the issue of torture on Mr. Zubaydah, Canada appears willing to stake its case against Mr. Abdelrazik on allegations possibly obtained through the torture of Mr. Zubaydah. And this, after the Minister of Public Safety, Peter Van Loan, said early this month that Canada would not use information obtained under torture even to break up an imminent attack. Sadly, this gap between official Canadian rhetoric and behaviour is not atypical.
THE GOALPOSTS ARE HERE, NO THERE
The government of Canada told Mr. Abdelrazik in 2004 that, as a citizen, he was entitled to an emergency travel document to come home. Unofficially, though, he was blocked. The U.S. put him on its no-fly list in 2005, and an unidentified country put him on a United Nations no-fly list a year later, and he had no passport. Canada refused to issue him a passport and said it could do nothing about the no-fly lists. In classified documents, Canadian security officials warn that the government “should be mindful of the potential reaction of our U.S. counterparts” if Mr. Abdelrazik is allowed to return. When Sudan, which had cleared Mr. Abdelrazik, offered to fly him back to Canada, documents show that Canada said no.
Then the Canadian government seemed to clear his name. The Foreign Affairs department confirmed in writing, on April 18, 2008, that it was asking for Mr. Abdelrazik to be removed from the UN no-fly list, after the RCMP and CSIS, Canada's civilian spy agency, said they possessed no “current and substantive information” that Mr. Abdelrazik was a terrorist. If an airline was willing to take him, the government said, he could fly home. But on Dec. 23, 2008, Passport Canada insisted he have a fully paid-for ticket before it would issue an emergency passport; the Canadian government warned that anyone offering him money for a ticket could be charged with supporting terrorism. After more than 160 Canadians chipped in airfare anyway, the government reversed course and declared on April 3 that he is a national security threat. It rejected his request for an emergency passport. Catch-22, anyone?
TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL
Mr. Abdelrazik is on centre stage in a theatre of the absurd. Ottawa's improvised actions are full of contradictions, and unbecoming for a major nation. Ottawa may simply be too stubborn to admit its mistakes on the file. It would rather dig itself in deeper, even allow itself to be tarnished by exploiting the fruits of torture, than admit it's been wrong.
If Mr. Abdelrazik is a terrorist, why doesn't Canada bring him home to face charges under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act? If he were a big player in al-Qaeda, why did the U.S. not capture him and take him to one of its secret, offshore jails, or to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? If he is dangerous, isn't it better to have him in Canada, where he can be watched or charged, than to allow him to roam (he is free to leave the Khartoum embassy), perhaps to turn up in Afghanistan, with the enemy? And why did the Canadian Security Intelligence Service take such an unusual step as to ask publicly for an inquiry into its own role, in a bid to clear its name of allegations that it had Mr. Abdelrazik arrested in Sudan? What goes on here in our democracy?
Governments need to act according to clearly understood rules. That is fundamental to democracy. An accusation, without a lawful process, cannot be allowed to negate citizenship. It is beyond the pale, even in an age of terror, to turn a Canadian into a non-person. Mr. Abdelrazik is you.