Harper Defends Handling Of Mohamud Case ; Slams McGuinty

Harper defends handling of Mohamud case; slams McGuinty

By Andrew Mayeda and Jordana Huber
Canwest News Service
August 13, 2009

OTTAWA—–Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's handling of the case of Suaad Haji Mohamud on Thursday, saying officials have made it a priority to ensure the Canadian woman, who has been stranded in Kenya for 2 1/2 months, returns home.

But rather than directly responding to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's criticism of the federal government's conduct, the prime minister hit back by urging the province to deal with the ongoing scandal at its electronic health records agency, eHealth Ontario.

Mohamud, a 31-year-old mother, has been stranded in Kenya since she was stopped on May 21 at an airport in Nairobi by a Kenyan immigration official who told her she did not look like the woman pictured in the four-year-old photograph in the passport she was carrying.

The Canadian High Commission sided with the official, saying it carried out “conclusive investigations” and confirmed the woman was an “impostor.”

A DNA test recently confirmed Mohamud is whom she claimed to be.

“Our first priority as a government is obviously to see her get on a flight back to Canada, I know that's been the focus of Foreign Affairs in this matter, and will continue to be,” Harper told reporters in Kitchener, Ont., after unveiling an economic development agency for southern Ontario.

Harper said the government will review the results of Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan's request from the Canada Border Services Agency for a “full accounting” of the agency's handling of the case.

“I think our officials and agencies are working hard to resolve what is not an easy case,” Harper said.

On Wednesday, McGuinty slammed Ottawa's conduct in the affair, declaring that “something is fundamentally wrong” when the Canadian government doesn't stand up for its citizens.

“It doesn't matter where we find ourselves, we are citizens of this wonderful country and we have responsibilities and we have certain legitimate expectations,” he said. “One of those is when we find ourselves in distress that our government will stand up for us. That didn't happen in this particular circumstance and there's no excuse for that.”

Asked to respond to McGuinty's comments, the prime minister fired back by making reference to scandal-plagued eHealth Ontario, which has dogged the McGuinty government after it was revealed that the agency doled out millions in untendered contracts. This week, McGuinty was forced to admit that he played a role in appointing the agency's former CEO, Sarah Kramer.

“The federal government had in its budget considerable funds available . . . for the expansion of and pushing forward for the project to make health records in this country electronic, so obviously I would encourage the provincial government to get on with rectifying problems in that area,” said Harper.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday the government hopes Mohamud will be on a flight back to Canada as early as Friday evening.

Mohamud has been charged by Kenyan authorities with possessing and using a passport issued to another person, as well as being present unlawfully in the country. However, Canadian officials have asked the Kenyan government to drop the charges, and Kenyan prosecutors have indicated they will file a motion to drop all charges Friday morning, said Natalie Sarafian, a spokeswoman for Cannon.

“Canadian consular officials will of course attend tomorrow's court hearing with Ms. Mohamud, as they have previously. The government is also making travel arrangements for Ms. Mohamud, and consular officials will assist her at the airport for her departure,” Sarafian said in an e-mail.

Mohamud, who was born in Somalia, travelled to Kenya on April 30 to visit her mother, leaving her son, 12, in the care of a friend in Toronto.

She was stopped from leaving by Kenyan immigration officials, who said that although Mohamud had the same facial features as the passport photograph, her lips were different.

Canadian officials voided her passport and handed it over to Kenyan authorities as evidence in their prosecution. She spent eight days in jail before being released on bail.