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August 10, 2011

Harper's Hypocrisy

Reuel S. Amdur

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Back in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "I think the government of Canada, when a Canadian citizen is ill-treated and when the rights of a Canadian citizen need to be defended, I think it's always the obligation of the government of Canada to vocally and publicly stand up for that Canadian citizen. That is what we will continue to do." That was then and this is now. He was talking about the case of Huseyn Celil, a Uyghur from China who is a Canadian citizen and who served as an imam in Hamilton, Ontario.

Celil went with his family to Uzbekistan, where they visited his wife’s family.  He was trying from there to get three of his children released from China.  However, the Uzbek authorities arrested him and deported him to China at the request of the Chinese government.  The contention was that he was a terrorist whose real name is Guler Dilaver.

China put him on trial and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.  Canada was not allowed to attend the trial, which was held in closed court. China has forbidden or severely curtailed contact with Canadian officials and his family.  The location of his incarceration is not known, and of course requests for his return to Canada have been rebuffed.  China refuses to recognize his Canadian citizenship.

During his July trip to China, Foreign Minister John Baird, in what can only be described as a totally uncharacteristic display of diplomatic behavior, termed China as Canada’s “friend” and “ally”.  He expressed Canada’s agreement with China about the need to return “fraudster” Lai Changxing to China.

Lai has resisted deportation in the Canadian courts, arguing that he would be mistreated and possibly executed and that he had no hope for a fair trial back in China.  He is accused of pocketing millions of dollars from import duties and of being the kingpin in this fraudulent scheme. 

In making a new declaration that the death penalty would no longer be imposed in cases of white collar crime, Chinese officials made it easier for Canada and its courts to go along with the deportation.  China also promised to allow Canadian officials to visit him in confinement.  Coinciding with Baird’s visit, he has just been deported and is now back in China, arrested and awaiting trial.  While previously the Harper government took a firmer stand on the rights of Canadian citizens and on human rights more generally (other than in the Middle East and in the case of prisoners taken in Afghanistan), Baird now wants to address human rights questions in private, according to a more recent Globe and Mail report on his Chinese visit. 

Throughout the Lai affair, nothing has been said publicly about Celil.  China argues that Celil is a Chinese citizen, but China does not recognize dual citizenship.  So when he became a Canadian, his Chinese citizenship should have been lost, and as a Canadian his situation should have become a matter of concern for his new country.  China argues that termination of Chinese citizenship requires a formal renunciation.  This argument appears strained.  If Celil is a Canadian citizen and China does not recognize dual citizenship, then he is no longer Chinese.

One hopes that with Baird’s quiet diplomacy something is in the works for Celil.  Ideally, he will be released in the not too distant future.  At the very least, he should be allowed visits from family and Canadian consular officials.  The precedent set in the Lai case could open the door for the deportations of other Chinese “fraudsters” who have taken shelter in Canada. 

Some leniency for Celil could be a reasonable quid pro quo.  Surely such a tradeoff would not be too much to ask of our “friend” and “ally”, even if we no longer act “vocally and publicly”. 

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