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article imageOp-Ed: Canada’s Failure To Protect Its Citizens Abroad

By Steffan Ileman     Aug 20, 2011 in Travel
Vancouver - Kulisek, a Canadian citizen, was released after spending over 3 years in a Mexican jail. This confirms once again, that Canada is powerless or even unwilling to help its citizens when they get into trouble abroad even when basic human rights are violated.
William Sampson Story
Perhaps the most horrifying case was that of William Sampson who was arrested in 2000, tortured and condemned to death by beheading in Saudi Arabia. A naturalised British Canadian, he was finally released through the efforts of the British Government and the U.S. after spending two years and seven months on the Saudi death row. (See video)
Brenda Martin
Brenda Martin, an Ontario woman, was jailed in Mexico for two years until the Foreign Affairs Minister finally decided to lift a finger and send word to the Mexican government in response to the publicity generated by her predicament. She was finally released on parole and returned to Canada after politicians couldn’t resist the potential publicity payoff in obtaining her freedom.
Canada's Scarce Diplomatic Capital
Sylvia Itzhayek of Montreal complained of Foreign Affairs’ indifference to Canadians jailed abroad after her brother Saul was arrested in India in January 2008 on charges that didn’t make sense. Interviewed over that story, some of Canada’s career diplomats were apparently concerned over “wasting precious diplomatic capital” by intervening with foreign governments. Translation into plain English: “Diplomacy is about licking ass and Canada is a second-rate power with limited clout only to be used for big business interests. Why waste it on common citizens who are probably guilty anyways?”
Such cynical materialism explains why Canada is perceived abroad as a second-class player in international affairs. It will only lower this country in the esteem of foreigners that used to respect it as another Switzerland. No wonder that Canada was booted out of the Security Council last year.
If it weren’t for the public support campaign started by his family and friends, Kulisek would probably have rotted in a Mexican jail unless he managed to kill himself.
Libyan Fiasco
Foreign Affairs’ day of infamy arrived, however, with the recent Libyan crisis when Canada’s diplomats closed down the Embassy in Tripoli to clear out for their own personal safety, stranding hundreds of Canadians without help in the middle of a civil war. If that doesn’t deserve an Order of Canada for dereliction of duty, nothing does.
There may be strong merit to the argument that Canada cannot even do a good job of protecting its citizens’ safety and well-being at home, and is a closet offender of human rights. The Government has a duty, however, to use every means at its disposal to ensure that Canadians detained abroad receive due process in accordance with international treaties and the legal principles this country purportedly upholds.
Mexico's Obligation To Raise Its Justice System To North American Standards
While indefinite incarceration without trial or sufficient evidence seems to be a widespread practice outside of Western Europe and North America, Canada has no excuse when it comes to leverage with Mexico. A junior NAFTA partner, Mexico purports to be a democracy on equal footing with Canada and the United States. It is also a big tourist destination fed by millions of Americans and Canadians every year in spite of the increasing danger to personal safety. Canada has no lack of leverage here. Mexico has a duty to bring its criminal justice system to North American standards, and Canada has a duty to protect its citizens to the best of its ability while in Mexico when Mexican government is the culprit.
Saudi Arabia
According to the Canadian Embassy web site in Saudi Arabia Canada and Saudi Arabia have common interests such as "humanitarian" issues (this is not a joke), and the country is Canada's second largest export market in the region (the punchline). There is no reference to the public beheadings and dismemberments carried out at town square. Saudi Arabia has a selective scale of meting out justice to foreigners. While U.S. citizens may get away with almost anything and will be deported at the worst, citizens of Arab, Asian and other Islamic countries will face the harshest punishment under medieval religious law. Europeans fall somewhere in the middle. Their fate will depend on how much "diplomatic capital" their governments are prepared to spend. In the case of an Arab Canadian, for instance, he or she will probably be treated like other Arabs irrespective of citizenship.
According to a report released in 2006 there were about 600 Canadians jailed abroad on various charges.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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