A year apart: No end in sight for Edmonton man stuck in Pakistan

It's been a year since Rab Nawaz, a Pakistani-Canadian who once worked on Pakistan's missile defense program, was barred from returning to Canada. One expert says Pakistani authorities may be sending a message and Canada could see more of such cases.

'It’s a warning to all Canadians about the risks they face in such countries'

Rab Nawaz was recently told by Pakistani authorities his name cannot be removed from the Exit Control List but no reason was given. (Rab Nawaz)

In the past year, Rab Nawaz has lost his job at Telus and lived apart from his family  — even missing out on the first five months of his baby girl's life.

Pakistani authorities say they won't remove the Edmonton man from a list that prevents him from leaving Pakistan.

Nawaz, who once worked on Pakistan's missile defence program, was placed on the country's Exit Control List (ECL) that prevents nationals from leaving. 

Last week Nawaz received a message from Pakistani authorities telling him his name could not be removed, without telling him why. The message was received through a mobile application called Pakistan Citizen Portal.

"A lot of times I thought about killing myself," Nawaz confessed in a phone interview Tuesday, speaking from the home of a relative in Punjab. "But then I thought no, I cannot do that to my kids."

The recent message Rab Nawaz received from Pakistani authorities.

The father of four first learned he was on the no-fly list after he flew to Pakistan for a short visit last October and authorities confiscated his passport.

According to a government document, Nawaz owed $23,000 for violating an employment agreement. In 2010 he left Pakistan for Belfast to complete a PhD, didn't return as agreed and eventually he and his family immigrated to Canada.

Nawaz said he wanted to delay his return to Pakistan because killers, who took the lives of his two brothers as part of a long-standing grudge against his family, were still at large.

But after paying the $23,000 fine in January, Nawaz still wasn't allowed to return to Canada. Instead he said he was interrogated by Pakistani authorities who asked him if he had ever spied.

'Due process of law'

In a recent email, Nadeem Kiani, a spokesperson for Pakistan's High Commission, did not respond to CBC's questions asking why Nawaz is barred from leaving or whether he is under investigation.

"I can assure you that the issue is under consideration of the highest authorities," Kiani wrote. 

"There is due process of law and if Mr. Rab Nawaz feels aggrieved, he is free to avail the legal options available to him under the laws."

A spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada said officials are providing consular services to Nawaz and they are in touch with local authorities but would not elaborate, citing the Privacy Act.

Despite placing a few calls to consular services Nawaz said he has only spoken to Canadian officials once and received two email updates informing him officials were twice in contact with Pakistani authorities.

"They say they are providing consular services — I don't know what that is and what that means," Nawaz said. "In reality they have not done anything for me."

He questioned the viability of exercising his legal options as suggested by the Pakistani spokesperson.

"Civilian authorities are helpless," Nawaz said. "They cannot even talk with [the government]. That's the reality. And my case is in the hands of the military and even courts cannot do anything."

Christian Leuprecht with the Royal Military College of Canada expects a rise in such cases. (CBC)

International security expert Christian Leuprecht said such cases will likely increase given much of Canada's immigration now originates in countries such as Pakistan and China where a robust rule of law does not prevail. 

"It's a warning to all Canadians about the risks they face in such countries, especially if they are current or former citizens, and especially if they worked in sensitive areas," said Leuprecht, a Royal Military College and Queen's University professor.

He said there might not be a security issue in Pakistan greater than their missile program.

"This is the holy grail of middle of Pakistani military technology," Leuprecht said.

"The Pakistanis perhaps are also looking to send a message that if you agree to work in this sector you've basically implicitly signed yourself away to living out your life in Pakistan. And if you leave and go abroad we will consider you disloyal and we will consider you a security risk."

This is the price of freedom for your family.- Rab Nawaz

Nawaz believes he's being punished because he "dared to walk away" from a country where disobedience is not tolerated.

Despite his own plight, he's grateful his family now lives in Canada where they can experience security and equality.

"They were not free when they were in Pakistan," Nawaz said.  "This is the price of freedom for your family."