The Tribune applauds the Federal Court’s recent decision permitting Montreal resident Abousfian Abdelrazik to sue the Canadian government for $27 million.
A Sudanese-born Canadian citizen, Abdelrazik was visiting his sick mother in Khartoum in 2003 when he was arrested by Sudanese authorities, at the request of the Canadian government, for suspected ties to al-Qaeda. He claims to have been tortured and repeatedly beaten while in custody, before being cleared of any wrongdoing and released almost a year after his initial arrest.
At that point, Abdelrazik was unable to return home because he did not have enough money, and his passport had expired. After his wife wired money from Montreal, airlines, consulting “no-fly lists,” refused him passage. Sudan offered a plane to fly Abdelrazik back to Canada, but the Canadian government chose not to provide an escort or help with the cost, and the plan fell through. Abdelrazik remained in Sudan for five more years, and spent another six months in Sudanese custody before being cleared again of any wrongdoing.
In 2006, the United States requested that Abdelrazik be added to the United Nations no-fly list, because of his suspected ties to high-level al-Qaeda members. He was stranded in Khartoum, living in the Canadian embassy with a $100 per month living allowance. Though the Canadian government admitted he was not guilty of any crimes, they said it was the job of the destitute Abdelrazik and his lawyers to remove his name from the U.N. no-fly list.
As years passed, Canada’s neglectful actions were broken only by the occasional burst of direct, official interference. In 2009, Abdelrazik was finally able to fly home after his presence was requested at a Parliamentary hearing. He soon announced that he was suing the federal government, which, in turn, argued that individuals could not sue for torture, and that in any case Canada could not be held responsible for the actions of another government.
The Tribune believes the first of those arguments is particularly absurd. If national security is to be invoked as justification for leaving Canadians in countries known to engage in torture, the government must be accountable for those Canadians’ welfare, especially—though not exclusively—when they are later found innocent. This case raises serious questions regarding governmental responsibility for ensuring justice toward its citizens abroad. In the interest of permitting these questions to be raised, and permitting a Canadian citizen to seek reparation for travails he has endured, the Tribune agrees with the Federal Court that Abousfian Abdelrazik deserves his day in court.