Is citizenship now defined by the colour of your skin?

Posted by admin on Aug 12th, 2009

August 12, 2009. Christopher Hume. Toronto Star

The DNA tests Suaad Hagi Mohamud was forced to undergo last week proved not only that she is who she says she is, but also that she is Canadian. The point seems lost on the current federal government, which has been content to let her twist in the Kenyan wind for three months while it did everything possible not to sort out the details of a case of mistaken identity. But it is a point worth remembering, especially in the face of mounting evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is determined to create different categories of citizenship. According to the administration’s new meaning of Canadian citizenship, the main qualification is not residence, place of birth, oath of allegiance or passport – it’s the colour of your skin.

And in Canada today, God help you if you’re not white, because the federal government sure won’t. Indeed, that government creates these problems in the first place.

Mohamud’s case is a perfect example; her nightmare began when a functionary in the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi agreed with a Kenyan airport official and decided she wasn’t the woman whose photograph appears in her passport. We were told, incredibly, that it had something to do with her lips. She was immediately declared an “imposter” and Kenyan authorities were asked to prosecute her.

Although she produced all kinds of identification – including a driver’s licence, OHIP card, social insurance card and a Canadian citizenship certificate to boot – her fate was sealed. The poor woman even spent time in a Kenyan jail, the horror of which one can only begin to imagine.

Meanwhile, her 12-year-old son – clearly another figment of her imagination – languished in Toronto, wondering if, not when, his mother would be able to return home.

Months after Mohamud’s ordeal began and even now that its falsity has been exposed, no one in Harper’s government has said a word, let alone apologized.

This isn’t just another political scandal; this is cause for deep national shame. This smacks not just of prejudice, but of apartheid.

The whole episode, don’t forget, began and ended with Canadian officialdom. Even if one accepts that bureaucrats in a far-flung posting make stupid mistakes such as this, the elected government’s response has turned that error into something wholly different, namely a matter of policy. Whether that policy is official or not, it’s now clear that only certain Canadians can count on the protection of the federal government.

Had Mohamud been a white mother from Leaside, you can rest assured that Harper himself would have led the charge to have her repatriated.

And we’re not talking about the Omar Khadrs, or the Maher Arars, men suspected of real or imaginary ties to terrorist organizations. We’re dealing with a single mom who produced her Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum card and even receipts from a local dry cleaners.

But Canadian High Commission first secretary Liliane Khadour wrote to Kenyan immigration authorities, saying: “We have carried out conclusive investigations including an interview and have confirmed that the person brought to (us) on suspicion of being an imposter is not the rightful holder of the aforementioned Canadian passport.”

Well – guess what? – Khadour couldn’t have been more wrong if she tried.

Even yesterday, after the results of Mohamud’s DNA tests were made public, not a syllable on the subject was uttered by anyone in government. Their silence speaks volumes. And what it says isn’t pretty: Canada, that bastion of tolerance, that refuge of civility, that exemplar of multiculturalism, no longer belongs to its citizens. It is not ours, it’s theirs. We just live here.

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