tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bring Mohamed Kohail back to Canada

Justifiably making the teacups rattle on Parliament Hill this week was the case of Mohamed Kohail, a Canadian citizen from the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux who, on March 3 at 13:00 local time, was sentenced to death – by public beheading, it is presumed – for murder in Saudi Arabia.

[Concerned Canadians should consider signing this petition.]

The plight of young Mohamed, who received what would graciously be described as abominable due process, gives the Harper government a chance to review its own policy, announced last October, that it would no longer go to bat for Canadians found guilty of crimes in “democratic countries where the individual will receive a fair trial.”

Of course, few people outside of those secret courtrooms in Saudi Arabia would argue that Mohamed Kohail received a fair trial, which is why the Canadian government can sound so magnanimous in seeking clemency for this young man.

A Canadian Press story recaps the events of the crime, which took place in January, 2007:

The two boys [Mohamed Kohail, then aged 22, and his brother Sultan] were involved in a fight that broke out after a girl's male cousin accused Sultan of insulting her. The brother demanded an apology, but Sultan refused. Sultan, then 16, said he called for help from Mohamed when he was confronted by several boys over the insult. According to the account of the Kohail brothers, Mohamed Kohail arrived at the school with a male friend to face about a dozen of the girl's male relatives and friends. Some were armed with clubs and knives. One of the attackers was punched, fell to the ground and died. He has been identified as Munzer Haraki [aged 19], a cousin of the girl who was supposedly insulted.

For the sake of liberating Mohamed Kohail and his brother (still awaiting trial and a possible death sentence), the Harper government’s case-by-case approach to protecting Canadians abroad should be wielded to do, at the very minimum, exactly what it can: spare the life of a human being, who fortunately in this case happens to be a Canadian citizen.

Assuming, for the time being, that the Harper government presses Saudi Arabia and the latter agrees to at least commute Mohamed Kohail’s sentence, Harper’s inarticulate litmus test for “democratic countries” and “fair trial” should come under further scrutiny. As NDP leader Jack Layton put it:

“It [Harper’s policy] means they're not going to know, they're going to have to check with the prime minister to see whether a Canadian facing a death penalty in one country is going to be defended, whether a Canadian in a different country is not… [The government is choosing] which country offers a death penalty that it finds acceptable.”

But let's not forget that Canada, by law, actually finds the death penalty unacceptable, and therefore there is no democracy nor quasi-democracy nor totalitarian oil-rich kingdom on Earth whose “fair trial” leading to the execution of a Canadian citizen should be palatable to a Canadian government.

Then, of course, there is the matter of taking Saudi Arabia to formidable task for its death-penalty policy, described in some of its terrible detail by Amnesty International Canada: religious and racial discrimination, accusations of witchcraft and apostasy, imprisonment without trial; these and other so-called crimes that often lead to public beheadings.

In fact, it was AI’s USA branch that much earlier detailed the horrific prospects facing Mohamed Kohail and his brother, in a release [PDF] last August about the execution of Saudi citizen Dhahian Rakan al-Sibai’i, who was found guilty of an alleged murder he committed while he was a child and killed by his own government.

No one expects Harper to take very much action. While the case of Mohamed Kohail should not be ignored until he is finally beyond the clutches of the brutal Saudi justice system, neither should that justice system continue to escape the attention of “democratic nations” such as ours even when Mohamed is finally back in Canada.