Canadians detained

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Imprisonment in foreign countries has many unforeseen consequences /Image: Arthur Ward

Imprisonment in foreign countries has many unforeseen consequences /Image: Arthur Ward

There are about 1,610 Canadians detained around the world

Article: Alec Salloum – News Writer

Two Canadians, John Greyson, a filmmaker, and Dr. Tarek Loubani, were released from an Egyptian prison on Oct. 5, after being detained for 51 days. The duo was in the region with the intent of doing humanitarian work in Gaza. Through a tumultuous series of events, were arrested without cause by Egyptian police, along with 602 others. Unfortunately, these circumstances of Canadians being detained in foreign countries are far from uncommon.

In the wake of the release of Greyson and Loubani, attention has been brought to other Canadians detained around the globe. In 86 countries, including America and Russia, Canadians are imprisoned.

Reports have varied on the exact number of detainees, but it ranges from 1,590 to 1,610, the latter statistic being reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFAIT) in August of this year. Of the 1,610 detainees, 1,121 are imprisoned in the United States, one of who is facing the death penalty for murder in Montana. DFAIT did not give an in depth breakdown on what specifically each prisoner has done to warrant jail time.

Henry Garfield “Gar” Pardy, a retired diplomat from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, discussed this issue in a National Post article. He stated that this number of locked up Canadians is something of a norm.

“If you look at any given time, there are about 1,800 to 2,000 Canadians in a foreign jail. The majority of them relate to drugs, and then it spirals out from that: assault, murder, rape. And you get robbery, fraud, all of those things crop up in these cases.”

[pullquote]“If you look at any given time, there are about 1,800 to 2,000 Canadians in a foreign jail. The majority of them relate to drugs, and then it spirals out from that: assault, murder, rape. And you get robbery, fraud, all of those things crop up in these cases.”[/pullquote]

Pardy went on to explain that imprisonment in a foreign country carries a litany of unseen consequences. From language and cultural barriers to judicial systems and “notions of fairness” that differ from our own.

Several high profile International Canadian detainees have garnered media attention, though the overwhelming majority has not.

Examples like Maher Arar, Abdullah Almakli and Hamild Ghassemi-Shall showcase other instances where considerable media attention has been on detained Canadians.

Arar fell victim to extraordinary rendition to Syria by the US Government in 2002 after being wrongfully accused of being a member of al-Qaeda.

Almakli, friend and emergency contact to Arar, was also arrested and wrongfully accused of holding ties to al-Qaeda when visiting his sick mother in Syria. Both men were Canadian citizens and both were released after considerable efforts made by the Canadian public and government.

Hamild Ghassemi-Shall was arrested on espionage charges in Iran. Hamild was detained for 64 months on unsubstantiated charges and faced death from his arrest in 2008 till his release this October.

Recently two Canadian Green Peace activists, Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki, were detained by Russian authorities in response to a peaceful protest of an oil platform. The pair, along with 28 other Greenpeace members, was imprisoned.

In the wake of recent releases and imprisonments of Canadians abroad, much attention has been given to the issue. Foreign Affairs Canada has published “A Guide for Canadians Imprisoned Abroad,” which outlines what to do in event of international imprisonment and what the Canadian government can do to help.

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