Canadian jailed in Ethiopia in 'good spirits': Baird

Canada has "made a step forward" in securing the release of Bashir Makhtal, Transport Minister John Baird said Thursday on the way home from a quick trip to Ethiopia, where the Canadian citizen has been jailed for three years.

Minister meets with Canadian citizen held in Ethiopian jail

Canada has "made a step forward" in securing the release of Bashir Makhtal, Transport Minister John Baird said Thursday on the way home from a quick trip to Ethiopia, where the Canadian citizen has been jailed for three years.

Canadian Bashir Ahmed Makhtal, shown in this undated family photo, was found guilty on terrorism-related charges. (Toronto Star/Canadian Press)
Baird, speaking with the CBC's Evan Solomon in an interview from Tel Aviv, Israel, said he met with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin in the capital Addis Abbaba on Wednesday for one hour to push for Makhtal's release.

"Regrettably, diplomacy doesn't have a timeline," Baird said. "But obviously we're not out of the woods yet."

He also met with Makhtal in prison and reported the 36-year-old was in "good physical condition" and has gained some weight.  

"I found he was in remarkably good spirits given the circumstances," the minister said. "I updated him on what our efforts have been, where we're going in the future, and just gave him a real commitment that the government will stand with him to press for his release."

Makhtal, an ethnic Somali born in Ethiopia, came to Canada as a refugee in 1991 and became a Canadian citizen three years later.

He was among dozens of people captured at the border between Somalia and Kenya in December 2006 when Ethiopian troops invaded the country. Makhtal was convicted of terrorism-related charges in July 2009.

A community group in Ottawa has taken up the case of Makhtal, arguing that he has been denied access to lawyers and consular officials.

Despite friendly relations with Ethiopia, Baird said the two governments have an "honest difference of opinion" in the case.

"They're convinced of his guilt and I'm not," said Baird, who was meeting with security officials at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday before returning to Canada.