Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler and other opposition MPs joined forces on Tuesday to plead the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Montrealer who has a ticket to fly home on Friday but remains in limbo at Canada's embassy in Sudan.
Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen, was once suspected of being an al-Qaeda operative, but no proof emerged. Whatever his virtues or shortcomings, he has spent years in straits that give new meaning to the term Catch-22.
It is time to end "this Kafkaesque nightmare into which Mr. Abdelrazik has fallen," Cotler told reporters in Ottawa, demanding the Conservative government give him the travel documents he needs to get on the plane.
Abdelrazik was visiting his mother in Sudan in 2003 when he was arrested for alleged terrorist links. The reasons for the arrest remain in dispute. Officials from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service have rejected suggestions they helped arrange his detention.
Abdelrazik eventually was freed because Sudanese investigators found no evidence to support criminal charges, but his name wound up on a United Nations anti-terrorism watch list.
Living in lobby of Canadian embassy
Meanwhile, his passport had expired. He has been living in the lobby of the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, unable to leave the country for lack of travel documents, among other reasons.
Ottawa at one point said it could not give him a temporary passport until he had an air ticket. He lacked the money, and airlines did not want to carry him because he is on the UN watch list.
After a willing airline was found, more than100 Canadians, some of them prominent, chipped in to buy Abdelrazik a $1,000 ticket for an April 3 flight.
By some interpretations, they were defying a federal law that threatens prison time for providing financial aid to a person on the UN list. There has been no apparent effort to enforce that law, however.
'In the case of Mr. Abdelrazik, the Sudanese government has made it clear there is no interest in keeping him, no charges against him. CSIS and the RCMP have made it clear that there is no evidence against him.' —Liberal MP Irwin Cotler
But Ottawa says Abdelrazik is still ineligible for travel documents because he remains on the UN list.
"In the case of Mr. Abdelrazik," Cotler said, "the Sudanese government has made it clear there is no interest in keeping him, no charges against him. CSIS and the RCMP have made it clear that there is no evidence against him. The Charter affirms his right to return."
Without asserting a motive, Cotler accused the government of setting up "a series of … moving targets, raising one objection to another" to keep Abdelrazik off the plane.
Case subject of legal action
Danel Barbarie, a Foreign Affairs spokesman in Ottawa, said Canada has a binding legal obligation under the UN charter to impose a travel ban, among other sanctions, on anyone whose name appears on the watch list.
The government will not comment specifically on Abdelrazik's case because it is the subject of legal action launched by his supporters, Barbarie told CBC News.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was in the Netherlands on Tuesday at a UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan.