On two Canadians jailed in Cairo

Michael Petrou explains why it is hard to argue that Canada has abandoned Tarek Loubani and John Greyson


On any given day, thousands of Canadians are detained abroad. Among them are filmmaker John Greyson and doctor Tarek Loubani, currently jailed without formal charge in Cairo.

The two were in the region hoping to travel to Gaza, where Loubani planned to train doctors and Greyson was considering filming a documentary. They were arrested on August 16 when they reportedly entered a police station to ask for directions. Prosecutors allege they had conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to attack a police station.

Street violence in Egypt has been frequent and deadly since a military coup this summer toppled the newly elected government of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.

Over the weekend, an Egyptian prosecutor ordered Greyson and Loubani to remain in jail for at least another 15 days. The two are now on a hunger strike.

Greyson and Loubani’s plight has generated a fair amount of public attention. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for their release. Celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival have done the same. The Globe and Mail has urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to personally intervene.

This outpouring is a little unusual. Several years ago I researched Canadians detained, in horrible conditions and without due process, in Haiti. Consular officials worked on their behalf, but they were largely unnoticed by the larger public. No one wore a button with their names on it.

And yet it is difficult to argue that Canada has abandoned Loubani and Greyson. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been in touch with his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmi. Today Baird’s spokesman tweeted a photo of the two having a telephone conversation. Baird tweeted that he hoped to meet Fahmi face-to-face next week in New York, and said Fahmi hoped the case would be resolved quickly.

The Egyptian ambassador has also been summoned more than once. Foreign Affairs says consular officials meet Loubani and Greyson “regularly.” Mohamed Loubani, Tarek’s brother, says DFATD employees have worked “tirelessly” on Tarek’s behalf.

This seems to annoy the Toronto Sun: “If you travel somewhere against the clear warnings of your government, you’re on your own if anything bad happens,” the paper wrote in a recent editorial.

I disagree. The benefits of Canadian citizenship should not depend on responsible behaviour — and besides, there is no evidence Loubani and Greyson did anything reckless. They were in Cairo, not Mogadishu. And with the possible exception of violating a curfew, it doesn’t appear they broke any laws. Canada is right to fight for their release.

We don’t know exactly what is happening behind the scenes. Government officials typically say little publicly when Canadians are detained abroad, mostly to avoid embarrassing or otherwise angering the parties they are petitioning.

Canada does provide Egypt with millions in aid. Conceivably, if this drags on much longer, Canada could threaten to suspend some of it. But at this point it seems reasonable to hope that Greyson and Loubani will be released shortly without further escalation.


On two Canadians jailed in Cairo

  1. I think those two were naive and were told by the Muslim Brotherhood to march with them for human rights issues. From what I understand that they stropped at the police station where the Muslim Brotherhood was shooting at, inflicting wounds on officers and blinding a high ranking officer, were there for directions. Anyone can see bullets flying and people running, how can you ask for directions from a police station under attack? Loubani had Hamas friends and one of the leaders of HAMAD Hanya posted on his facebook. These two were innocent, because the believed the Muslim Brotherhood that they were peaceful demonstrators.

    • Have you any evidence you can give us to back up your account of events, which quite different from what our government is saying?

      • The area where the two Canadian citizens was under attack by the muslim brotherhood and bullets where flying everywhere….How could they go in the police station under attack and ask for directions to GAZA? They were downtown and GAZA takes 1 hour by plane. Something doesn’t make sense here. Look up Ramses square and you’ll find it right downtown in Cairo.

        • The media reports I’ve seen indicate they were initially en route to Gaza via Cairo, but the border from Egypt to Gaza had been shut down, so they booked into a hotel in Cairo. They then apparently (and obviously unwisely) left the hotel to see what was happening, they got lost, and then entered a police station to ask directions back to their hotel. That’s when they were detained. I’ve not read anything indicating that the police station they went to was in any way under attack when they went there for direction. That’s why the government says they were simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Without any other evidence, I don’t see any reason to think otherwise. They clearly exercised bad judgement leaving their hotel, but that’s hardly an offense that ought to result in imprisonment.

          • You’re twisting the facts crankyvisitor. This sounds like we shouild be sympathetic but it’s a made up story that you are telling. You saying that “They clearly exercised bad judgement leaving their hotel, but that’s hardly an offense that ought to result in imprisonment” is not a true statement.

            Noone said, anywhere EVER that they were arrested for “leaving their hotel.”

            They were not arrested because they left their hotel. They were arrested after they broke the curfew LAW that they KNEW about and then ended up being suspected of participating in terrorism with the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, unless you know for sure that they aren’t….I’d suggest you let the Egyptian government do their job. Tarek is a regular traveller to Gaza through Egypt so he may have been on their radar for all you or I or the rest of the world knows. But somehow, you seem to be an expert on the lives and intricacies of Tarek and John and their doings?

            But….sounds like you have a career in journalism if you ever choose to pursue it. That was a nice try at making something non-factual and non-truthful sound believable.

          • Stripped up the inquisitive vitriol that shapes your prose, your case seems hinge on the idea that “they were not arrested because they left their hotel. They were arrested after they broke the curfew LAW that they KNEW about…”

            Well I’m glad you cleared that up. Except to commit a crime, as I suspect you may have heard, a person has to knowingly intend to break the law. This being so, how do you know the duo left the hotel not intending to get lost, then became lost, then stranded, time passed, so they went into the police station to get directions back to their hotel, so they would NOT break any curfew in place?

            And while I’m on my feet, and since you insinuated that I seemed to have some special insider information — I don’t — may I ask why you are so incensed by the idea that two of your fellow citizens might be released from a foreign prison where they are being held without any charges? What puts that particular pickle somewhere up your person?

          • “Except to commit a crime, as I suspect you may have heard, a person has to knowingly intend to break the law.”

            That’s not the slightest bit true. That is 100% false. Don’t ever use that excuse in court, in any country, including Canada. Wow. You can be changed with any crime, regardless of whether you knew it was a crime or not. Whether you knew has absolutely no bearing on the matter whatsoever. It’s your responsibility to know the law.

          • I think I would use such an argument in court if I was lucky enough to be addressing a judge who had been to law school and understood the basic common law concept of “mens rea”, which you might want to look up.

          • If you get pulled over for speeding, and you actually tell the officer you did not know the speed limit, he’s actually MORE likely to give you a ticket. Ignorance is never an excuse. Intention is never a requirement.

            I think that you’re confused about mens rea. Mens rea means that you must commit the act knowingly (purposefully) that you’re committing the act. It does not mean that you must know it’s a criminal act. The two concepts are completely different.
            For instance, to violate a curfew, mens rea requires that you know you’re outside and that you know (more or less) the time. It doesn’t require that you know that being outside at that time is a crime. It just requires that you did what you did knowingly and intentionally. Being unaware that it’s a crime may in fact help you in front of a judge when it comes to sentencing, but not necessarily, because in general you are expected to know the law.
            Mens rea can have an affect on what you can be charged with. Murder vs manslaughter is an example. The former is knowingly killing someone. The second is knowingly committing a reckless act that results in the death of someone. Both crimes have elements of mens rea that differs. But in neither case do you need to know that what you’re doing is a crime.
            Mens rea is a requirement that allows the defense of insanity. Mens rea allows a reckless driver to be acquitted of reckless driving if the driver was having a heart attack and thus there was no intention to commit the act of driving recklessly.
            Mens rea does not, ever, require that you knowingly intended to break the law, all it requires is that you knowingly intended to do what you did (whether the act was a crime is another matter).

          • Oh!!! Are you suggesting that the tenured prof and medical doctor of which the latter makes regular trips to Gaza didn’t know about the curfew? They didn’t do any research about the safety precautions before they left Canada and disregarded (or just didn’t know about) the laws and warnings?

            Ok then. You’ve convinced me with your strong evidence. They must have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Also a great way to have a debate. “that particular pickle up your person?” Well done.

  2. I can’t agree with Mr. Petrou’s position.

    Canadian citizenship absolutely must assure freedom of movement within Canada, but there’s no reason any Canadian should expect to freely wander any other nation without restriction or scrutiny. We have obligations to obey the laws of host countries, just as we expect visitors to Canada to adhere to ours.

    • We also have an obligation to read the articles we comment on before we comment on them.

    • What laws do you suspect they broke that would justify this detention?

      • We don’t know yet. That’s the whole point of the Egyptian government detaining these men. How entitled can you be to expect to regularly enter a country (Egypt) on a regular basis whether it’s “humanitarian” work or vacation and not feel like you should be governed under their laws? That is ridiculous. You have no idea what the Egyptian government knows. None of us do. These men chose to go on this mission which is accepting the laws of that country. It’s laughable to me that people here think Canadian citizenship exempts you from the laws of travelling in other countries. If we can ignore the laws in other countries because Canada will come to the rescue…hey…let’s all pack our bags and go over the world and do whatever we all want. lol! That’s what these guys did.

        • Do you think the Canadian government has the right to inquire regarding what charges these men are being detained for?

          • Yes. I absolutely do.

    • ” When in Rome”

  3. The commenters below are, of course, entitled to their opinions, no matter how misguided. That’s what free speech is all about. HOWEVER: John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were not involved with the Muslim Brotherhood in any way. They were not taking part in a demonstration. They were neither naive nor misguided. They are a doctor and a filmmaker, who were en route to a humanitarian project in Gaza, not Egypt. They were obliged to spend an unplanned night in Cairo. They were in a taxi, heading back to their hotel. They walked into a police station to ask directions and ended up in a nightmare. They have been detained WITHOUT CHARGE for more than 33 days. As Canadians, they are entitled to expect that their government will do everything it can to protect them from abuse by a foreign government. Those who feel otherwise should consider what this would mean for them if they were unfortunate enough to be in a similar situation and then vilified by comment board trolls with no regard for facts. Or are these people so secure in the popularity of their views that they would risk the “mercy” of mob rule?

    • I don’t know what articles you are reading or where you are getting your absolute information that they are not involved with the Muslim Brotherhood. You must be living in their pockets. But there has been nothing written anywhere that supports any actual facts that these two were innocent of anything. If you have anything to share with the “comment board trolls” that is obviously not in any articles about this story….please do enlighten us all with it instead of telling people basically that their take on this is less accurate and important as your own. That would be way more productive and mind changing.

    • One more thing about your post makes me curious. How did you know they were in a taxi? I haven’t read that anywhere. I find it hard to believe that a taxi driver wouldn’t know where there hotel is OR be working after curfew…..please do share your source.

      • I’ve also read somewhere, or heard on radio/TV, that they were indeed in a taxi at some point.

        I find it amusing that “guest” keeps accusing people here of being operatives for the Muslim Brotherhood because they offer “secret” information that, on examination, is actually information that has already been reported.

        Makes me wonder who this “guest” might be.

        • I have never ever said that they are “operatives for the Muslim Brotherhood” anywhere here. I think you should take a reading course. I have been saying that the evidence is not adding up and we need to wait to see what it is that the Egyptian government knows. They are the ones accusing these two….not me.

          And if you’ve read that they were in a taxi somewhere….link us to the article. That would be more beneficial than trying to start some kind of conspiracy theory on who “guest” is.

          You really like to twist what other posters say in here. Luckily, people can read for themselves.

    • You don’t get into Gaza and work there unless you are a) a useful idiot working for Hamas, a terrorist organization that is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of things there, or b) part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Case closed. Let ’em riot.

  4. Here are some questions that I would like answers to:

    Why would they be booked in at a hotel if they “just” learned when they arrived in Cairo that they couldn’t get to Gaza?

    What time did they arrive in Cairo?

    How and when did they find out they couldn’t get to Gaza that night?

    Did they book into a hotel right away?

    If so, what made them leave their hotel and stray so far as to get lost knowing the curfew had been set?

    What did they decide to do before going to their hotel that let them right into the heart of a violent protest? What could have been so important to even leave their hotel with all of that volatility?

    Before curfew was looming, why didn’t they hop into a taxi who would have known where their hotel was? There are lots of less dangerous options to ask for directions than in the middle of a violent protest.

    You see, there is no REAL story in the media currently. Just this one detail. “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time asking for directions to their hotel after curfew at a police station that was the focus of a violent attack after hours.”

    That is not a fact people. That is what they defendants are saying. Does anyone really expect them to say, “ok…ok….yes. We were here to take part in a violent protest.” That’s just well….not going to happen.

    I’m not saying that these guys are guilty. I’m just saying that their reps have not offered any information that would actually give some facts and shed some light on HOW they got to the police station and WHY. It makes their confession sketchy to me. Why is this literally the only information we have from these guys?

    If anyone has the answers to my questions above, please tell me because I feel that is the REAL story.

    And FYI….having a good cover like being a humanitarian makes sense when entering a country where you may or may not be involved in any sketchy activity. Do you REALLY think that people who are up to no good get to immigration and say, “hey. I’m here to take part in some violent protests. We’re all good?” hahaha!

    Think people. Just think for yourselves. Ask questions. Don’t ask our PM to fix this before you even know what it is you’re asking him to fix…..because right now, nobody reading these articles knows.

  5. I’m glad that there is a groundswell of support for these two. It is a wonderful testament to their characters and to international goodwill.

  6. Dr Loubani is not what he appears. In Canada he is under investigation for ties to Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza and else where. While this is not a reason to be detain both men were on their way to Gaza … and not through a direct route. There plan was to sneak into Gaza from other areas outside of Israel … They knew if they had flown to Israel that that would have been allowed to leave and they would have been detail there and charged with terrorist charges. Nagia is correct and you people need to do your own thinking and stop reading newspaper articles as absolute truth! The film maker is along for the ride on this one and will have some great stories to tell … if they let him out.

    • Of for godsake, there is zero evidence that any of the above is true.

      • First time I’ve agreed with you crankyvisitor. Although I have many questions, I have never seen any of that information anywhere. Do you have a link to an article about this Thinkaboutit?

      • Since the time that comment was posted, all of this information has indeed come out. It’s all true. Loubani has been arrested in Israel before. Greyson was aboard the Gaza flotilla that attempted to break the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip. Most likely both would be denied entry into Israel.

  7. I cannot see why they think a hunger strike will accomplish anything. It’s been 33 days, not 33 years. Why the heck do they think that threatening to kill themselves will solve anything, especially in a country like Egypt where people have been getting killed in violent protests for a while now. A hunger strike just makes them look like total fools. It also makes them look like babies – there has been intense suffering in Egypt, people being detained left and right, innocent people getting killed in the streets, so for these two to go straight into a hunger strike just because they’ve been arrested makes them look like babies.
    Like other people here, I am skeptical we are getting the whole story. I don’t believe these seasoned travelers got “lost”. Seasoned travelers who travel through the Sinai to Gaza don’t need the police to find their hotel. I don’t believe these “humanitarians” were sitting around with no intention to get involved in any protest or activity, when the two of them travel around the world with the sole intention of getting involved in other peoples’ business. Their story is not believable. I’m not saying they committed a crime, or that they should be detained, however I don’t think the story being told is the truth.

  8. If you disagree with traveling outside Canada and the Toronto Star Mike – then perhaps you should get off your entitled azz and go rescue these two trouble makers – who got picked up in a bad place.

    Do a little background work on them – they are not the nice Canadians many would have us believe.

    Perhaps they are getting their “just desserts?”

  9. Since they are suspected of assisting terrorists and tyrants by the Egyptians, being set free isn’t an option right now, even if Canada begs for their release. Probably won’t be released out of jail for another year at least.

    Banged Up Abroad..this may become a great episode one day.