Blacklisted Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik kicked off a cross-Canada speaking tour in Montreal on September 24 to exonerate himself from allegations that he had ties to al-Qaeda and to demand legal recourse for a six-year ordeal that left him stranded in Sudan.
Abdelrazik has also filed a civil suit for $27 million against the government of Canada and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, for violations of his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Members of Project Fly Home, a coalition of Montrealers who fought to keep his story in the news throughout his time in Sudan – organized Thursday’s event to help “build opposition to the national security agenda” that labeled Abdelrazik a terrorist.
Speaking at the Centre d’éducation populaire in Little Burgundy, Abdelrazik recounted his experience of living under Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)surveillance in Montreal, his imprisonment and torture in Sudan, and his frustrating predicament of being unable to return to Canada because his name was – and remains – on a United Nations no-fly list.
Abdelrazik fled Sudan as a refugee in 1989, following the coup that brought Omar al-Bashir to power. The coup was followed by a collapse of human rights within the country, which has since seen hundreds of thousands killed in the Darfur region.
Abdelrazik spoke softly when recalling the violent conditions in Sudan that forced him to leave. “Above all, I feared the mukhabarat,” he told the crowd, using the Arabic word for “intelligence,” and describing how government agents would torture or kill dissidents. “For anyone coming from Sudan, mukhabarat is a very scary word.”
Abdelrazik settled in Montreal, married, and had children, becoming a citizen in 1995. In the late nineties, CSIS officers began following him, often waiting outside his apartment. When they first visited his home, he said they identified themselves as “the Canadian mukhabarat.” On September 11, 2001, CSIS agents went to Abdelrazik’s home to ask him if he knew whom the hijackers were.
In 2003, Abdelrazik’s mother fell ill, and he flew to Sudan to visit her. In Khartoum, he was detained by the mukhabarat. He would be imprisoned, tortured, released and rearrested several times, but was unable to flee the country.
Abdelrazik’s lawsuit accuses the Canadian government of complicity in his detention and his desertion, a charge against Ottawa that has also surfaced in the cases of Maher Arar, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, Abdullah al-Malki, Muyyed Nureddin, and a host of others from the Arab and Muslim communities.
“The Canadian government is responsible for the missing six years of his life, and in the torture and detention of yet another Canadian citizen abroad,” Abdelrazik’s attorney Yavar Hameed told the crowd.
Abdelrazik said the first Canadian officials who came to visit him in Sudan were the same CSIS agents that had followed him in Montreal. Instead of offering consular assistance, they told him “You are not Canadian; you are Sudanese and you will stay here forever. Sudan will be your Guantanamo Bay.”
After repeated requests to be put on a plane to Canada, the Canadian consulate informed Abdelrazik that he was ineligible to fly home. He was detained again, and just before his second release in 2006, his name was added to the UN’s no-fly list. It remains unclear as to which government asked that Abdelrazik be added to the list.
Stranded in Khartoum after his release from prison, Abdelrazik camped out in the Canadian Embassy, where staff kept him in the men’s washroom. “My home was a toilet in the embassy for three years,” he said.
It took a Federal Court order to compel the government to finally issue Abdelrazik a new passport and fly him home. Last June, Federal Judge Russel Zinn said the UN Committee, which added Abdelrazik to the no-fly list, was neither independent nor impartial in its decision.
“It is difficult to see what information any petitioner could provide to prove a negative, i.e. to prove that he or she is not associated with al-Qaeda. One cannot prove that fairies and goblins do not exist any more than Abdelrazik or any other person can prove that they are not an al-Qaeda associate,” Zina wrote in a legal judgment calling for Abdelrazik’s repatriation.