Motion to Call Upon the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to Grant Citizenship to Raif Badawi

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by my colleague, Senator Miville-Dechêne, calling on the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marco Mendicino, to grant citizenship to the Saudi writer and blogger Raif Badawi by exercising his discretion to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship. I would add that the House of Commons unanimously adopted a similar motion on January 27.

Mr. Badawi’s saga begins not with his arrest by Saudi authorities in 2012, but rather in 2008 when, at the age of 24, he founded the blog and discussion forum “Free Saudi Liberals” with Souad al-Shammari, a Saudi women’s rights activist. That year, he was arrested, questioned about his website and then released.

He was subsequently accused of creating a website insulting Islam. He then left Saudi Arabia. He returned only after Saudi prosecutors indicated that they were dropping the charges, but that was a trap. In May 2009, his and his wife’s assets in Saudi Arabia were frozen. In December 2009, just as he was about to take a flight to Beirut, he was prohibited from leaving the country, without any explanation.

In March 2012, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Al-Barrak published a religious ruling, a fatwa, declaring Mr. Badawi an apostate who should be judged and condemned for stating on his site that Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists are all equal.

After this fatwa, Mr. Badawi’s wife and children fled to Egypt, then settled briefly in Lebanon before applying for political asylum in Canada, which was granted. They then settled in the beautiful Quebec city of Sherbrooke. They are all Canadian citizens now and, my goodness, how actively engaged they are. His wife even wants to run for the Bloc Québécois in the next federal election.

In June 2012, Mr. Badawi was officially arrested and charged with creating a website that undermined “general security,” mocking Islam and committing apostasy, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, a judge dismissed the charge of apostasy after Mr. Badawi was able to convince the court that he was Muslim.

However, in July 2013, Mr. Badawi was found guilty of the other charges and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In a flagrant violation of international standards for fair trials, Mr. Badawi’s lawyer was prevented from attending the hearing, which is not unlike what happened to the Canadians in China. The lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, who is also a human rights advocate, would later be locked up and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Mr. Badawi’s sentence was appealed in 2014, but to his shock, it was increased: 10 years in prison; 1,000 lashes to be administered over a period of 20 weeks; a one-million-riyal fine, which was about $300,000 Canadian at the time; a total ban from accessing the Internet; and a ban from leaving Saudi Arabia for 10 years following his release.

At the request of the King of Saudi Arabia, the country’s supreme court reviewed the decision and ultimately upheld it in a January 2015 ruling. Mr. Badawi’s new lawyer was not authorized to intervene during the Supreme Court review.

As you are no doubt aware, flogging is a form of torture that violates international law, and in particular the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1997. Furthermore, article 8 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights states that:

(a) The States parties shall protect every person in their territory from being subjected to physical or mental torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This charter was also ratified by Saudi Arabia.

In response, Saudi Arabia has stated that the prohibition of torture, under the Arab Charter on Human Rights and international law, does not apply to convictions under Sharia law. That said, we should be pleased that flogging was finally abolished in Saudi Arabia in 2020, which I consider to be a step in the right direction for the governance of that kingdom. I would like to point out that Mr. Badawi had already received several dozen lashes when flogging was abolished.

However, the fact remains that Raif Badawi’s situation is unacceptable and has caused much outrage, leading to calls for clemency in Quebec, Canada and around the world. The list of Mr. Badawi’s accolades includes a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, the Freedom of Speech Award, the Courage Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in 2015, and finally, an honorary doctorate from Université de Sherbrooke in 2017.

These recognitions have not gone unnoticed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In early March 2021, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, who is working on the file, informed us that Mr. Badawi and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, are both under investigation for “influencing public opinion” and “damaging the reputation of the Kingdom.”

In an article published in the now defunct “HuffPost,” the Honourable Irwin Cotler, former minister of Justice, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and legal counsel for Mr. Badawi, explained the following:

When Minister Dion last raised Mr. Badawi’s case with Saudi officials, they emphasized his lack of Canadian citizenship as precluding Canada from intervening on his behalf. As someone who has represented political prisoners for some 40 years in such diverse jurisdictions as the Former Soviet Union —

 — Mr. Cotler was then acting for Andrei Sakharov, then in Egypt for Saad Eddin Ibrahim, then in South Africa for no less than Nelson Mandela, and now he represents Raif Badawi. He said:

. . . this is the first time any country has questioned my right — and that of Canada — to make representations on behalf of a political prisoner because that political prisoner was not a citizen of Canada.

Mr. Badawi was granted honorary citizenship by the City of Sherbrooke in 2015 and by the City of Montreal in 2018, but he is still missing the one that counts, true Canadian citizenship. The fact that he does not have Canadian citizenship is a barrier to any intervention by our country in this case and keeps us from providing any consular services to Mr. Badawi.

Consequently, even though Canadian citizenship would certainly not overturn Mr. Badawi’s conviction or the ban preventing him from leaving Saudi Arabia for 10 years after his detention, it would give Canada the opportunity to intervene. That is why I invite you to support the motion, honourable colleagues. Thank you.

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