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The suspense is killing us: Liveblogging Foreign Affairs on Canadians abroad. (Maybe.)


 

Disclaimer: As noted (read: ranted about) earlier,  ITQ has no idea how this particular SO 106(4)-driven emergency committee meeting is going to unfold — or, for that matter, if it’s even going to happen — today, or ever.  But that’s not going to stop her from showing up to liveblog whatever does end up going down this afternoon in 237-C, so check back at 2:45 or so for a pre-meeting scrum with NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar. (He’ll tell us what’s going on, right? )
UPDATE: Okay, we’ve got the name of one potential witness, at least: ITQ has been told that Suaad Mohamud is in Ottawa, and ready to testify if invited to do so by the committee.

2:32:19 PM
Greetings, fans of justice for Canadians stranded abroad, foes of capriciously in camera-fied meetings and random parliamentary tour groups!
After securing the coveted corner seat in the soon-to-be-temporarily-locked-down committee room, ITQ has joined the stakeout by the Reading Room, which is conveniently located just across the Hall of Honour from the giftshop.

We’re all eagerly awaiting the arrival of NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, who wants to use this meeting as a springboard to a much more extensive investigation into this government’s treatment of Canadians who run into trouble abroad, from Omar Khadr to Suaad Mohamud and plenty more in between. In the meantime, though, we’re trading tidbits on potential witnesses: apparently, the Liberals want to call a whole whack of bureaucrats, from the president of the Canada Border Services Agency to the deputy minister at Foreign Affairs, as well as Mohamud, as previously noted, and a handful of others. Whether the other opposition parties are willing to back their play on that one, well — we’re just going to have to see what happens at this afternoon’s meeting.
Holding a spontaneous picket of the leader of the party you hope to keep as an ally strikes ITQ as a potentially risky strategy, however.

2:44:06 PM
Dewar is here, and he’s explaining what he wants to do — convince the committee to “work together” (drink!) to come up with a protocol for handling cases that arise in future. He does sound like he’s willing to meet the Liberals halfway, at least, on the witnesses tentatively scheduled for today, though. “We have a government that needs to be held to account,” he notes, as far as its obligation to protect citizens abroad — and it looks like it’s going to require a law to make that happen.

2:49:22 PM
This was a very smart move by Dewar — he’s got a captive audience out here, and he’s taking full advantage of it. I’ve not seen any other MPs yet, but I’m sure they’ll turn up soon — that, or they’ve slipped in the backdoor. Honestly, we need fewer egresses in this place.
2:53:46 PM

Hey, look, it’s Dan McTeague, waiting patiently as Dewar continues to expound on his proposal!

Okay, Dewar finally ceded the floor, and McTeague wastes no time in pillorying the current government while praising past Liberal governments for acting diligently, and as quickly as they could *once informed*. Suddenly, Joe Volpe materializes at his elbow, and Glen Pearson is lurking smilingly just behind him. Wait, where’s Bob Rae? Is he not in town?

Meanwhile, Deepak Obhrai just glided past the mic, as a gaggle of serious-faced Conservative staffers pay close attention to the pre-meeting (or pre-pre-meeting, I guess) scrums.

McTeague, btw, doesn’t seem opposed to Dewar’s motion, but he points out that it doesn’t matter *how* many laws there are if the government of the day chooses to, you know, ignore them.

2:58:37 PM
And they’re in — doors locked. Anticipation? Rising. Whee!

3:00:51 PM
Okay, they’re not actually in session yet, which is why the scrum has now moved inside, and is surrounding Obhrai; he tries to stick to his talking points — Obhrai is a veritable barnacle. On the plus side, the chair is here, which means that the motion will go through. On the What the — *What*? side, there’s a rumour that Mohamud is being blocked from entering the building, which, frankly, ITQ can’t quite believe. I mean, really — did the government decide that the irony just wasn’t rich enough, and had to add that extra dollop?

We’ve been kicked out for the moment, but I’ll update as soon as I know what’s going on.

3:15:02 PM
Well, in theory, the doors should be swinging open riiiiiight about … now. Sadly, that requires the go-ahead of the clerk; they’re not on time release. Although that, too, is an idea to tuck away for the eventual renovation of Centre Block.

I can report that at least some of the maybe-possibly witnesses are here, though — there’s a tense-looking huddle of DFAITsters, and other bureaucratic types. The door, however, remains closed.

3:22:26 PM
Update: According to ITQ spies over at Agriculture, the doors are still closed there, too. Wasn’t this supposed to be the Transparency Government?

3:29:29 PM
Still waiting — and apologies for the less than informative updates, but I don’t want anyone to think I’ve just gotten bored and wandered off. That only happens at sporting events.

3:39:10 PM
And we’re in! Unfortunately, they didn’t give us outsiders much time to get settled, and the clerk also has a grand total of one copy of the witness list, so expect spelling mistakes and a bit of franticness as this liveblog gets underway.

First up is Len Edwards, the current deputy minister, who is accompanied by Gerald Cossette, the CEO of the Passport Office, Lillian Thomsen, director general of the Executive Services Bureau and Luc Portelance, vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency. They’re on til 4:30, and will be followed by Suaad Mohamed and Johanne Durocher.

3:43:25 PM
Sorry for the brief housekeeping diversion — finally got my very own copy of the witness list, though. Meanwhile, Edwards seems to be reaching the end of his opening statement, which can basically be summed up as, “Consular Services? Pretend I’ve Never Heard Of Such A Thing Before, Or, For That Matter, Heard Of The Internet, And Explain It To Me Like I’m Six”, otherwise known as talking points hastily scraped from About Us section of the departmental website.

3:48:46 PM
Okay, I was wrong when I predicted that Edwards was winding down his speech — he’s still going strong, explaining the process of registering your travel on the internet, recent initiatives to encourage health and safety amongst travellers, as well as assisting Canadians caught in “crisis situations”, from natural disaster to terrorist attacks. There is a “growing demand” for consular services, which — as per Edwards — resulted in a boost of $18 million in the last budget.

3:51:07 PM
Finally, “in conclusion”, he gets to recent “cases of interest” that have garnered the attention of both the media and the committee, and says something that I suspect we’ll be hearing repeatedly this afternoon: both Khadr and Mohamud have ongoing legal action against the Crown, which means that it would be “inappropriate to comment” on matters before the courts.

Yeah, that might be the ballgame, as far as the likelihood of getting any answers here, but we’ll see.

3:53:52 PM
Over to CBSA’s Portelance, who *also* mentions the unfortunate matter of those ongoing lawsuits/legal challenges — again noting the inappropriateness of commenting — and then gives an overview of how the agency operates, and the “balanced focus” between security, and facilitation at the border.

3:59:49 PM
And now, questions — seven minute rounds, and half an hour left on the clock.

Volpe takes the lead for the Liberals, and advises the chair that he has documents — oh yes he does — that he wants circulated to committee members and the witnesses — and then moves straight into his opening round. How often, he wonders, does Edwards brief his minister? There’s a bit of back and forth on exactly what he means, but the answer appears to be fairly often — at least a couple of times a week.

Volpe wonders whether he’s in similarly close contact with counterparts at other departments — like, for instance, the other witnesses sharing the table with him today — and Edwards tells him that many of those issues are handled far below the deputy level. He was *also* on leave at the time that the Mohamud case arose, so he can’t provide any insight on whether the Clerk of the Privy Council, for instance, was informed.

4:03:47 PM
And now, the pounce: Volpe wants to know when Edwards first saw his letter to the minister, dated June 18th, and the deputy minister tells him that this is the first time he *has* seen it — this afternoon, that is. He has no idea when — or if — it made it “into the system”, as Volpe put it. Edwards reminds him that he wasn’t there at the time — who was, then? Shouldn’t he or she be called to testify, too? — and also warns that this appears to be getting close to the no-go zone as far as that pesky ongoing litigation.

Volpe then switches to Portelance, and wonders how many reports CBSA made to DFAIT after taking over the file, and Portelance — whose tone — and hesitation — makes it sound like his eyes are shifting nervously, but ITQ can’t see his face to be sure — echoes Edwards’ concern. Volpe challenges that — he’s asking a procedural question, he reminds the chair, not arguing the legal case — but Sorenson doesn’t seem to be buying it.

4:10:20 PM
With that, Volpe runs out of time — that must have been deeply unsatisfying, and unlike when an MP inadvertantly eats up all his or her time with a long, pointlessly rambling preamble, it wasn’t really his fault, since the witnesses were being recalcitrant, and the chair didn’t stop the clock.

Over to the Bloc Quebecois, and the mighty Francine Lalonde/Joanne Deschamps power duo, who grill Edwards on what they see as a disturbing lack of concern over Canadians abroad — Edwards assures them that this isn’t the case. Portelance, meanwhile, makes the rather remarkable point that as far as *his* agency is concerned, the role of CBSA officers abroad is to — assist the airlines? Wait, did I hear that right? “The final decision rests with the airline companies,” he notes, who are governed by the law of the country in question. Gosh. I — did not know that. Not even a little bit.

4:16:35 PM
Hey, it’s Deepak Obhrai! Doesn’t the NDP get a turn first? I guess not. Anyway, Obhrai is on a tirade about the evils of the opposition, and all the awful, awful allegations that they’ve made — especially that nefarious Dan McTeague. Eventually, even the chair is forced to intervene, since Obhrai isn’t even pretending to be directing questions at the witnesses anymore. Obhrai awkwardly rewords the question so as to hurl it at Edwards, who is now being asked to condemn Dan McTeague — a person who *should know better* — for his allegations of racism and other bureaucratic perfidies.

McTeague then demands that Obhrai apologize for suggesting that *he* — McTeague — claimed the department was racist. The chair then orders everyone to ‘take a deep breath’, but Obhrai promptly goes right back into his tirade, and — aren’t his seven minutes up yet?

4:23:24 PM
Obhrai is still going on and on and on and on and on and on and on about how terrible, horrible and awful Dan McTeague is, although he does say — twice — that the results of the internal review of the Mohamud case will be made public, which is news to the rest of us.

And — yes, he’s now officially out of time. Gosh, I wonder if he’s going to do the same thing when Mohamud is up?

4:28:04 PM
Paul Dewar finally gets a turn, and asks Edwards a couple of questions that tie in to his proposed legislation, but does elicit the following information: There is no legal obligation that a consular official confronted with allegations of torture or abuse be sent up the chain of command, but as far as Edwards’ experience, it’s the standard practice.

Dewar also wants to know how much money is generated via the $25 stipend that all travellers pay for consular services through passport fees, and Cossette tries to explain how the money flows.

4:35:03 PM
With five minutes left to go, Peter Goldring gets a little more information on the putative release of that internal review — according to Portelance, it requires the individual involved – Mohamud – to waive her privacy rights, which sounds a little odd to me, especially given the ongoing litigation, but I’m sure we’ll get more information later.

Finally, Lois Brown gets Edwards to confirm that no Canadian seeking consular services is *ever* turned away. What if they can’t prove that they’re Canadian, though? Isn’t that the issue in at least one of these cases?

4:40:47 PM
And now, Suaad Mohamud will tell her story, although not until her attorney, Julian Falconer — who you may remember from past cases of Canadians mired in difficulties abroad, including a Mr. Maher Arar — explains that she’ll be reading from a prepared statement.

With that out of the way, she begins, and the story hasn’t gotten any less stark and unsettling, although as yet, we haven’t heard anything new. At one point, Falconer reminds her to speak more slowly, which she does.

She discusses her experiences before, during and after her nightmare began — from desperately attempting to prove her identity by brandishing her Canadian Tire money, to sleeping on the jailhouse floor in the company of a murderess.

4:50:11 PM
You could hear a pin drop as she continues with her story — at one point, stopping, either out of nerves or an excess of emotion, it’s impossible to tell when you can’t see her face. On the opposition side of the table, the members are riveted; she seems to be a less commanding presence for those on the other side, although that could simply be due to the members wanting to read through the written statement first.

4:52:21 PM
A good point by Mohamud: Given the importance of that DNA evidence that finally persuaded the government of her identity, what would have happened if she hadn’t had a child against whom to compare her genetic makeup?

4:54:51 PM
After thanking her family, her lawyer, the journalists and other supporters who brought her case to public light, Mohamud – with whom it really is impossible not to empathize — concludes her statement by noting the absurdity of the situation: She never, ever thought that she would end up in jail because she claimed to be a Canadian citizen.

4:56:31 PM
With that, it’s over to the other witness — Joanne Durocher, the mother of Nathalie Morin, who is being held against her will in Saudi Arabia. She gives a recap of the situation — it involves children, and the Hague Convention, and the alleged refusal of the government to repatriate her, despite the fact that Saudi Arabiai isn’t even a signatory to the convention in question.

Dan McTeague — once again taking the lead for the Liberals — acknowledges the awfulness of Durocher’s situation, and promises her that it is not a partisan issue to him, and won’t happen again if he — or this committee — can help it.

He then shifts his attention to Mohamud, and asks a very lawyerly series of questions, most of which only require a yes or no answer from Mohamud: The gist is that two different agencies — Citizenship and Immigration, and CBSA — confirmed that she *was*, in fact, who she was claiming to be, yet still, the minister — Lawrence Cannon, that is — suggested that the onus was still on *her* to prove her identity. Neither he, nor the prime minister, has apologized for the treatment she was accorded, Mohamud confirms.

Finally, McTeague wonders whether she was transferred into Kenyan custody immediately, which prompts a clarification from Falconer, who notes that she was first approached by KLM officials, who claimed her “lips looked different”, and gets her to confirm that in *her* opinion, the failure of Canadian officials to provide assistance contributed to what she went through in Kenya.

5:10:04 PM
Joanne Deschamps takes a moment first to acknowledge the ordeal Mohamud has been through, and assures her that it is not out of lack of interest or concern that she will be focusing on Durocher’s plight instead. She then does so, and gets Durocher to provide still more harrowing evidence of coercion and abuse, not just of Morin, but her three children as well. It’s just an awful story, really, although I’m not *completely* sure whether it raises the same questions as the Mohamud case.

5:13:52 PM
And now, another seven minutes with Deepak Obhrai, who reminds Mohamud that he is from “the same part of Africa” as she is, and tells her that he’s heard from other Somali-Canadians about the difficulties they have faced when travelling in that region, particularly Kenya. He avers his support for the universality of Canadian citizenship — there should *never* be a two tier system, and he and his government will get to the bottom of what happened to her.

Well, that was a distinctly different tone than we heard from the parliamentary secretary earlier. He didn’t even mention Dan McTeague!

With that, Obhrai hands the floor over to Goldring, who goes into some detail on the ministers’ efforts to ensure a “full accounting” of what happened to her, and then asks whether Mohamud is willing to waive privacy right here and now — at committee? Really — as soon as the report is available.

Falconer jumps in to clarify, and notes that his client has nothing to hide — yet at the same time, she wants the government to disclose all the information that *they* have as well.

Sorenson reminds Falconer that it was his client who was invited to testify, not him, and Goldring makes another attempt to get Mohamud to give her consent to release the information, but runs out of time before she can do so – or not to do, if she listens to her lawyer, which I would do if I were her. There’s just something a little — tricksy — about that seemingly innocent request from Goldring, especially in this context.

5:24:11 PM
Dewar is up next — and probably last — and manages to elicit the longest and most extensive extemporaneous statement from Mohamud yet — that’s not a criticism of the witness; just noting it — as she goes over, once again, the many ways she attempted to have the consular officials confirm her identity, from taking her fingerprints to calling her family and employers back in Canada.

5:25:55 PM
Alright, so apparently, Royal Galipeau will get the last round, and he, too, takes time to commiserate with Mohamud, and commend her courage throughout; he really does seem to be genuinely distressed by what she went through. He hopes that she will find the eventual report on her case ‘satisfactory’ — and points to him for not yet again asking whether she’s willing to waive her privacy rights. He also has a few more questions for Durocher on her daughter’s case, and asks, gently, whether it’s true that Nathalie actually returned to Saudi Arabia after leaving her estranged husband — which is correct, according to Durocher, although that was to get her children.

Okay, I’m sorry, I have to say it: From what I’ve heard so far, the Morin case is definitely a little bit more ambiguous than that of Suaad Mohamud, as far as the alleged actions/inaction of the government.

5:36:07 PM
Okay, that little privacy waiver back and forth has definitely raised bright red flags for the opposition members, particularly Volpe and McTeague, although the chair eventually has to intervene.

Oh, and then Brian Jean decides to pop up, helpfully, and once *again* ask whether Mohamud — who was definitely prescient in ensuring that she would have her lawyer present — is willing to waive her privacy rights, noting that she’s protected by privilege here — what does *that* have to do with her privacy rights? — and also reminding the committee that she *is* suing the government for $2.5 million. Which ITQ thought was off limits, as far as this meeting, no? Just checking.

5:40:14 PM
Sorenson eventually wades in, and rather nervously gets the various sides to back away from the mics for the moment. He then adjourns the meeting, at which point the scrum — a much, much larger scrum that we saw earlier, descends on Falconer and his client.

Wow. I’m — actually a little blown away by that. Was it just my imagination, or was there something very, very odd going on at the end there?

That’s it for the live coverage — hope y’all enjoyed. I know it’s left ITQ’s brain whirling furiously.


 

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