Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Stands Up For Canadians?

Recent days have seen the long-overdue return of Suaad Hagi Mohamud to Canada after spending nearly three months trapped in Kenya. She was taken into custody at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in mid-May because, apparently, her lips didn't match her four-year-old passport photo. When faced with a Canadian held in custody for such a reason, how did the Canadian consulate react? Obviously, it accused her of being an impostor and ever-so-helpfully voided her passport so that the Kenyan government could prosecute her for, among other things, being in the country illegally.

A simple DNA test could have - and, eventually, did - solve this problem. Nevertheless, there wasn't even the beginning of action on this front until the end of July, more than two months after Mohamud's initial detainment. It's not as if it's an expensive option, as the Toronto Star reported that the government would bear the $810 cost. For a government, that's less than loose change in the couch.

There's an old truism that actions speak louder than words, and through their conduct of this case the ruling Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hollering to wake up the dead. Hollering about what they think of citizenship, and the way in which they view the people to whom they're accountable. I used to think that it was a government's responsibility and duty to support its citizens when they're in scrapes overseas, that that was part of what citizenship meant. A government has an obligation to protect the people who live under its jurisdiction, because otherwise, what's the point of a government at all?

A government that can't do this is sad, a tragedy. A government that won't do this is something else again. I can buy a brief delay because, really, things only slowly move through bureaucracies, and there are few denser bureaucracies than in the parliaments and congresses of the world. But _two months?_

What really got my goat about all this was that while going to work the day news broke that Ms. Mohamud was coming home, I passed an outdoor television that flashed a headline along the lines of "Conservatives maintain slight lead in poll." I can only hope that this was referring to the latest EKOS Research Associates poll, conducted on July 21st, which put the Conservatives at 32.8% to the Liberals' 32.5%, because otherwise, we have a government whose supporters don't care that it left a Canadian citizen to languish in limbo for two months. In its actions, Canada's government has demonstrated a contempt for citizenship, and the fact that no heads have yet rolled speaks volumes.

I recently got my passport renewed, and I flew with it to Montreal and back with no problems at all. Nevertheless, the picture on it was taken in May. For the purposes of comparison, here's a photo of me taken on July 28, 2007, and my previous (heavily redacted for posting) passport, which was still valid at that time. I'm even wearing the same shirt in both photos. Nevertheless, if I had a passport photo like this now, I would not feel comfortable travelling on it given Ms. Mohamud's experience.

So what's the deal? Should we have to renew our passport photos every year so that we can't be as easily arrested for our lips looking wrong, or having different glasses, or losing or gaining enough weight to change the shape of our face? Or should we look to the government that has, by its actions, devalued a document that is meant to "allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary" - a direct quote from the first page of my passport.

There's no such thing as tiered citizenship in Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is very clear about this - every individual is equal before and under the law.

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