MONTREAL – A Canadian stranded in Sudan has broken his silence and is speaking out against Ottawa in a last-ditch effort to secure a passport so he can return home on a flight paid for by his supporters.
“For six years I have tried to go back home to my children, but the Canadian government took my old passport and will not give me another one,” Abousfian Abdelrazik said in a recorded statement released by his lawyers Thursday.
“I have been imprisoned and tortured. I am safer now because I live in the Canadian Embassy but I miss my children in Canada.”
Citing RCMP and CSIS reports obtained by his lawyers that absolve him of any terrorist activity – the initial reason behind his 2003 arrest during a trip to visit his ill mother – Abdelrazik slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for still failing to repatriate him.
He said Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Deepak Obhrai, even visited him a year ago and “personally inspected” wounds he suffered at the hands of Sudanese officials.
“I showed Mr. Obhrai the scars on my body and back from being beaten,” he said. “He saw I was tortured but he did not help me.
“All this happened to me because the Harper government says I am an Islamic extremist. This is a lie. I am a Muslim and I pray to my God but this does not make me a terrorist or a criminal.”
He also thanked the nearly 200 Canadians who supported him by pooling their money to buy his plane ticket. Abdelrazik was scheduled to return home on Friday but it was unclear whether he would be able to.
Ottawa had long said it would hand over his travel documents if he had a plane ticket but last week Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he would first have to get his name off a UN terrorist list.
Abdelrazik further questioned whether the delay in dealing with his case has more to do with racial prejudice than a concern about terrorism.
“I understand Mr. Obhrai and the prime minister refuse to discuss my case and many other cases of Canadian Muslims in trouble now,” he said.
“Do they think we are not ‘real Canadians?’… The prime minister has blue eyes and white skin and the Governor General is a black lady. Is one of them more ‘Canadian’ than the other?”
Authorities have alleged he has ties to Osama bin Laden. A recently published report suggests CSIS operatives were the ones who initially asked Sudanese authorities to arrest and detain Abdelrazik.
Investigators found no evidence to support criminal activity and he was released without charge. The RCMP has also said there is no information linking him to any crime.
He was granted safe haven at the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum nearly a year ago but lawyers say he’s been living under strained conditions while bills mount for his room and board.
“We’ve been very concerned about him speaking publicly because of how it can be used against him,” lawyer Paul Champ said.
“His access to a telephone or his access to other amenities like television or a shower can be withdrawn at any given moment so he is concerned about upsetting (Canadian authorities) but he’s also concerned about upsetting Sudanese authorities.”
Noting Canada gave him a place to stay in the first place knowing he could otherwise be re-arrested and tortured, Champ said there is genuine fear over what might happen if he’s forced out of the embassy.
But Abdelrazik decided to take his chances and speak out.
“(The government) still hasn’t said no,” Champ said. “There’s a chance we can get him out of the country so we felt it was worth the risk to apply as much pressure as possible while we can.”
Protests were scheduled on Friday in 10 Canadian cities, including Abdelrazik’s hometown of Montreal, if he did not get on his scheduled flight.
Audrey Brousseau, another of his lawyers, believes the delay is purely political. She doesn’t think Canadian authorities believed Abdelrazik’s supporters would be able to find an airline that would issue a ticket under the circumstances.
“I think they (the government) are running out of excuses,” she said. “It’s not legal anymore, it’s political.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, who has been actively working on Abdelrazik’s behalf, agreed, adding if it’s a hefty lawsuit the government’s trying to avoid, delaying the inevitable will just make matters worse.
“Every day that Mr. Abdelrazik remains in the embassy in Khartoum because of the federal government not providing travel documents for him is one more day that could be used for costs against the government in a potential lawsuit,” he said.
“What they are doing is… denying a Canadian citizen their constitutional right.”
Abdelrazik’s case has sometimes been compared to that of Maher Arar, a Canadian who was jailed and tortured in Syria.
The federal government eventually apologized to Arar and paid him $10.5 million in compensation.