Lost in Translation: Edmontonian frustrated by consular services for critically ill dad in Turkish hospital

An Edmonton woman says she's frustrated by the lack of assistance and miscommunication from the Canadian government, two weeks after her father ended up in a coma in a Turkish hospital.

‘I don't know if my father's receiving adequate health care,’ says Jasmine Mohamed

Jasmine Mohamed said the federal government has failed to provide adequate support since her father become critically ill in Turkey. (Courtesy of Jasmine Mohamed)

An Edmonton woman says she's frustrated by the lack of assistance and miscommunication from the Canadian government, two weeks after her father ended up in a coma in a Turkish hospital.

On Feb. 14, Jasmine Mohamed received an email from Global Affairs Canada.

It read: "I understand that your father's condition is improving and that you are now able to see him every day. This is good news and must be a comfort to your family."

But the reality was much different.

"It made me cry," Mohamed said. "Because I just read that email after being told my father is doing worse.

"The doctor, she couldn't speak English. But what she did say is 'it's bad.' "

Her father, Abdulkadir Mohamed, 58, had a stroke in the Istanbul airport on Feb. 3 while travelling back from Somalia to Canada, without insurance. His daughter only learned days later, after reporting him missing.

Jasmine Mohamed flew to Istanbul and requested help from both Global Affairs and local MPs. She said an embassy official visited them in hospital but couldn't translate medical terms and wouldn't work over the weekend. Hospital officials were pressuring her to sign forms she couldn't read.

"I'm not getting the information I need," said Mohamed. "I don't know if my father's receiving adequate health care."

The email from Global Affairs also described how her father's case will be treated "when he comes back to Canada."

But the family can't afford to fly him back to Canada at a cost of nearly $90,000, on top of accumulating medical fees.

Mohamed said it's difficult enough dealing with a critically ill parent in a foreign country, but she assumed she could rely on the Canadian government.

She said her father immigrated to Canada in the 1980s and became a Canadian citizen. Her parents opened a Somali restaurant in Toronto.

"I feel like my father's life is not worth anything," said Mohamed, who works in community development.

Insurance 'strongly' recommended

Global Affairs said it could not speak specifically about the case without Abdulkadir's consent, citing privacy legislation.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the department strongly recommends Canadians travelling abroad have comprehensive travel insurance.

"However, consular assistance is available to Canadians, whether or not they have travel insurance," wrote Michael O'Shaughnessy, providing links listing services offered by the consulate.

Medical expenses are not covered and translator services are not mentioned.

Dean Peroff, an international business attorney and co-founder of the Council to Protect Canadians Abroad, said it's important for Canadians traveling abroad to purchase insurance.
Dean Peroff with the Council to Protect Canadians Abroad says family members dealing with Global Affairs encounter a lack of transparency. (Provided)

He said many Canadian travelers assume they will receive the same health-care coverage they would get in Canada, "and those assumptions simply can't be made."

But he called the government's reliance on privacy legislation to justify holding back information "overused" and a way "to avoid having to account to the public."

"There's such a lack of transparency on the part of consular affairs when it comes to dealing with inquiries, either from family members or members of the public including reporters," he said.

Michael Welsh, former director general of consular operations at Global Affairs Canada, told CBC News in an email that the "fear of being sued by an unhappy client" is another factor at play, as families such as the Mohameds try to access federal assistance overseas.

He said it leads consular staff "to put our services into passive form: handing out lists of doctors, lawyers, police, translators, airlines, etc. and telling the client it's up to them to decide what to do."

Review of consular program

But Welsh is hopeful recent developments could lead to change. He said the House Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to undertake an in-depth review of the consular program, which will include consulting Canadians.

He suggested Mohamed should consider weighing in.

"Most Canadians don't know what they can expect from embassies and consulates when they are in trouble abroad," he wrote. "I hope that this review can lead not just to more widespread understanding of the services available, but maybe MPs might decide to browbeat Global Affairs into doing a better job of providing a lot more active, not passive assistance."

In contrast to the lack of government assistance, Mohamed said she is "so thankful" for the community support she has received since going public with her story.

A Turkish mother and daughter showed up at the hospital last Saturday to advocate on her behalf, and the local Somali students' association sends two people each day to offer support and help with translation.

In Edmonton, the Alberta Somali Community Centre is fundraising and others are raising money online.

"Where (the Canadian embassy) failed me, there were people who were able to step up for me," said Mohamed. "But as much as these people are stepping up for me, it's not enough. They don't have the power, they don't have the clout to make any changes for my father."

Follow Andrea Huncar on Twitter @andreahuncar. You can also contact her via email.