TORONTO – After staunchly refusing to recognize her citizenship for weeks on end, the federal government is now probing how it handled the case of a Canadian woman who has returned home after being detained in Kenya for months over an identity dispute.
Suaad Hagi Mohamud returned to Canada Saturday after being marooned in Nairobi for 86 days because authorities said her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the Canada Border Services Agency is preparing a report detailing just how Somali-born Mohamud, who was visiting her mother in Kenya, ended up spending eight days in jail and over two months holed up in a hotel room as she struggled to prove who she was.
“From where we see it now it looks like it needs a bit of an explanation,” said Van Loan. “What decisions were made and why and to get a sense of what actually occurred.”
When Mohamud, 31, turned to her country for help in May, consular officials doubted her citizenship, called her an impostor and voided her passport.
Mohamud was finally able to prove her identity through genetic tests last week, which led to charges against her being dropped in a Kenyan court on Friday.
The charges, which included being in the country illegally, were laid as a result of Canada denying her citizenship.
Van Loan said he will wait for the investigation’s outcome before deciding whether to award her any compensation for her ordeal.
“We have border services agents that have to make thousands of decisions every day,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to pass any judgement until I see the results of the report.”
Mohamud was welcomed home by cheering family and friends, which included her soft-spoken 12-year-old son, Mohamed Hussein.
“I just want to be with my boy, my boy,” said an emotional Mohamud as she latched onto her son at Pearson Airport on Saturday evening.
The duo were whisked away to an undisclosed hotel to spend some time away from the public eye.
“It’s so they can really have time together, have time to really relax,” said family spokesperson Abdi Warsame.
Warsame said he believed Mohamud’s lawyer took her to a Toronto hospital for chest X-rays on Sunday as she was thought to have contracted either pneumonia or tuberculosis while she was in a Nairobi jail.
“She was very weak, extremely weak,” said Warsame, who was the first to greet Mohamud as she emerged from customs at Pearson airport.
“I grabbed her and she was very very thin. She felt like she was about to collapse,” he said.
Warsame said Mohamud’s case has riled up Canada’s Somali community who want the government to ensure all citizens are treated equally regardless of their ethnic background.
“It’s a slap on our face,” said Warsame of Mohamud’s ordeal. “We should not be treated differently.”
Warsame said in addition to the official review underway, the Somali-Canadian community wants the government to say it’s sorry.
“We demand an official apology from the highest ranking officer of the government,” he said, raising his voice slightly. “There should be some sort of accountability.”
Warsame ripped into foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon for saying Mohamud had not tried hard enough to prove her identity in Kenya.
“I think she should consider suing the Canadian government,” Warsame said, adding that he couldn’t elaborate on the specifics of any legal action Mohamud was planning in the future.
Cannon’s office remained tight lipped saying the minister was committed to getting to the bottom of Mohamud’s identity debacle.
“Minister Cannon has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to do a full review of this case,” said spokeswoman Natalie Sarafian.
NDP leader Jack Layton used Mohamud’s ordeal to take a jab at the Conservative government in a speech delivered at a party convention in Halifax.
“In our Canada, new Canadians are given help to find good jobs, and won’t have to fear when they travel abroad that their passports will be seized and their government will deny their identity,” he said in the text of this speech.
Also coming under fire in the aftermath of Mohamud’s return is the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi.
“We want an official review of the high commission,” said Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress. “A lot of questions remain unanswered.”
According to Hussen, Mohamud’s case is not an isolated incident.
He pointed to the case of a young Somali Canadian man who has been stranded in Kenya for almost three years after an error on his mother’s part left him without a passport.
When the man appealed to the Canadian High Commission, just like Mohamud, his citizenship was doubted and travel documents withheld.
“There’s mounting evidence Canadians of Somali heritage are not getting the services they deserve,” said Hussen. He also said corruption was rife among authorities at the Nairobi airport, who he added went as far as to ask Mohamud for a bribe when she initially tried to leave Kenya.
“The Canadian High Commission had a duty of care to a Canadian citizen and they failed in that duty,” said Hussen. “The Canadian passport has to mean something.”