Canada’s Conservative government has been criticised for its muted response to the 7-year jail sentences handed down the other day to 3 journalists in Egypt, one of whom is an Egyptian Canadian. Canada’s outspoken hawk Foreign Minister John Baird was put on the spot yesterday for turning into a dove on the issue. It’s what he offered as an excuse, however, that opens a big can of worms that may come to haunt the Conservative Party come next election.
Mr. Baird said yesterday that the Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was born in Egypt, a dual citizen and therefore subject to Egyptian law. What this means is that in the government’s view Canada has two classes of citizens, those born in Canada and those born elsewhere, who make up roughly one third of the country’s population. What he came short of saying is that there are Canadians called Jones and Smith and Canadians called Mohamed, and you can’t expect the government to treat them equally.
The government’s response in this affair contrasts sharply with its response to the arrest of 2 Canadian journalists, let’s call them Jones and Smith, during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul a year ago. After the 2 CBC journalists were detained by police in an area fire-bombed by protesters, the government immediately introduced a motion in the House of Commons condemning the Turkish government. The journalists were released shortly after questioning.
Naturalised Canadians have always been made aware that they may have past obligations to their countries of birth such as military service in which Ottawa cannot interfere, but this is not the case with Mohamed Fahmy. It may well be that Ottawa is working behind the scenes to secure the journalist’s release. Its response may have been muddied by the perception that the journalist may have been biased for Egypt’s Islamists or critical of the military regime. These would have been valid diplomatic considerations if Mr. Baird hadn’t made that statement.
About a decade ago William Sampson, a British-born Canadian narrowly escaped execution by decapitation in Saudi Arabia thanks to intervention by Britain and the United States after Canada’s reluctant efforts to “expend diplomatic capital” failed. With the government’s recent changes to citizenship law and the ease with which it plans to revoke citizenship of “undesirable” Canadians, a pattern is appearing to emerge. The government should come clean that it’s not in the process of creating two classes of citizens. It should assure all Canadians that they are entitled to the full and equal protection of their government anywhere in the world. Nothing will debase the value of Canadian citizenship more than a caste system.