The Globe and Mail published an interesting piece recently about Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian in Sudan who is being blocked by the Canadian government from returning to Canada. The bulk of the article, which goes through some of the events of Abdelrazik’s case (being put on a no-fly list while in Sudan, later having the RCMP and CSIS declare that he was not a threat and the Canadian government give him permission to return, and then having the same government deny his request for a passport), is interesting, and worth a read. I want to focus, however, on the introduction to the article:
His name is Abousfian Abdelrazik, but it could as easily be Joseph Smith, a Canadian Everyman. He is a citizen denied the right to return to his country by the Canadian government without explanation; for the past year he has languished in Canada’s embassy in Khartoum. If Canada can dismiss his citizenship so arbitrarily, the currency of Canadian citizenship is devalued, and the rule of law degraded.
Mr. Abdelrazik, an Everyman? Some Canadians may object. It is not every Canadian who has been publicly labelled an al-Qaeda recruiter by the United States government, as he was in 2006. It is not every Canadian who would be jailed – twice – in Sudan, and at Canada’s request.
But any Canadian who leaves this country to work, travel or study may face an accusation of serious criminality abroad. Will Canada insist on due process for them if they are denied it? Will Canada be the one, as in this case, to deny due process and basic fairness?
The alleged terrorist Abousfian Abdelrazik, with his long white beard and the traditional white robe and kufi cap of a practising Muslim, watching television to pass the time behind the embassy’s concrete walls, is the test of Canada’s commitment to the rule of law and the value of citizenship.
Beginning with its headline, “Cause for Canadians to worry,” the article places its emphasis on the implications of this case as a test of Canada’s commitment to protect its citizens. The framing of Abdelrazik as a Canadian who happens to find himself in an extremely vulnerable position, but a position in which any Canadian traveling abroad could potentially find themselves, highlights Abdelrazik’s Canadian identity over all of the other labels that could potentially apply to him, and calls on Canadians to recognise him as one of our own. The article argues that Canada’s treatment of Abdelrazik calls into question its very “commitment to the rule of law and the value of citizenship,” suggesting that Canadians need to think carefully about how we define citizenship, and whether it is indeed something that we can always count on. This point is reiterated at the end of the article:
Governments need to act according to clearly understood rules. That is fundamental to democracy. An accusation, without a lawful process, cannot be allowed to negate citizenship. It is beyond the pale, even in an age of terror, to turn a Canadian into a non-person. Mr. Abdelrazik is you.
Again, Abdelrazik is portrayed not as a Sudanese-Canadian, or as a Muslim Canadian, but as a Canadian, full stop. The Canadian government’s dodging of its responsibilities towards him is seen as a betrayal of one of its own citizens, which is, rightfully, pointed out as a serious cause for concern.
While this emphasis on Abdelrazik as a Canadian (no qualifiers needed) is certainly an important point to make, something about the first section still made me uncomfortable. The suggestion that this could happen to anyone, that “Mr. Abdelrazik is you,” no matter who this “you” might be, is useful as a rallying cry for those wanting to hold Canada accountable, but it also glosses over the systems of racism and Islamophobia that put Abdelrazik in this position. After all, his name isn’t Joseph Smith, and that’s probably not a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence that Canadians like Maher Arar and Omar Khadr also don’t have names like Joseph Smith. By implying that all Canadians are equally vulnerable to this treatment, the article ignores the particularly precarious situation faced by many Canadians who may be seen as Muslim, Middle Eastern, or otherwise somehow lesser citizens. So while it is absolutely right to point out that these people are just as Canadian as the hypothetical Joseph Smith, it does not do enough to challenge the perception that people like Abdelrazik are somehow less Canadian because of their ethnicity or religion, and that such people face much greater risks, and much less uproar from their fellow Canadians, when their citizenship is denied or ignored.