Who cares about Canadian sovereignty ... the Feds?
On the afternoon of April 15, Adam Austen tried a second email, this one with exclamation points as the first got no response.
"Can someone confirm this is being looked into? What do we know? Is there an investigation? Who is the lead? Thanks!!," wrote Chrystia Freeland's parliamentary secretary, copying top level Global Affairs Canada staffers on his note.
The answer came four minutes later from the department's communications head, Philip Hannan.
No one at Global Affairs had contacted the Saudi Embassy about whether it had helped one of its citizens, Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi, flee prosecution in Cape Breton on charges of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement, uttering threats, criminal harassment, dangerous driving and assault with a weapon.
No one at either Global Affairs, Canada Border Services, the Department of Justice or the RCMP considered themselves responsible for finding Alzoabi.
No one was discussing how to end what appears to be a standard practice by the Middle Eastern kingdom of violating the sovereignty of local courts when its citizens fall afoul of the law.
"Justice are looking into whether they are in a position to respond regarding extradition, but my colleague is not optimistic," responded Hannan.
"… Justice felt the other questions are ours to answer. However, no one in the department has engaged on the file. No contact has been made with the Saudi embassy in the regard. I'm advised (that Riyadh) has not engaged either."
And in the 87 pages of heavily redacted internal government emails The Chronicle Herald obtained via an access to information request, no one appears to discuss the potential impact on victims of seeing the alleged perpetrators of their assault so easily avoid our justice system.
In the months that followed Alzoabi's bail forfeiture, The Chronicle Herald attempted to establish whether embassies helping their citizens flee justice in Canada is a more extensive problem.
Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service and similar bodies in other provinces all replied that they don't have a search field in their computerized record-keeping systems to find similar cases. We contacted every law school in the country and law societies in all 10 provinces asking for help tracking down similar cases and only heard interest from Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law.
By searching its own archives, The Chronicle Herald found two more cases - involving a Saudi Arabian and a Chinese man - where foreign nationals skipped bail despite the police here having seized their passports. Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen said at the time that without passports it would have been "virtually impossible" for them to leave Canada without having been granted travel documents by their embassy.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live newspaper found five cases in its state where Saudi Arabian nationals had been able to escape prosecution, potentially with the assistance of its embassy. They include two accused rapists, a pair of suspected hit-and-run drivers and one man with child porn on his computer. In the case of Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, U.S. Marshalls allege the embassy even arranged for a private plane to whisk the 21-year-old out of the country two weeks before he went to trial for killing a 15-year-old girl.
"This is a failure of the duty of government to protect its citizens," said Robert Currie, a professor at the Schulich School of Law who specializes in both international law and extradition.
"That's what infuriates me about this case. The breach of Canadian sovereignty sounds very abstract and the administration of justice is messed around with. But these are Canadian citizens who are entitled to a level of protection from their government."
Two days after her parliamentary secretary sought answers on what the department was doing about the cases being raised by the media, minister Chrystia Freeland was asked about Alzoabi's case outside a cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke.
"On that particular case, we're looking into it," she told reporters on Jan. 17. But internal emails from her own department's communication staff that same day tell a different story.
"Based on the traffic I've seen there's no proof of Saudi involvement," Amy Mills, Global Affairs spokeswoman, wrote in an email copied to 16 high-level department staffers, despite the Crown prosecutor in Sydney having stated the Saudi embassy posted Alzoabi's $37,500 bail.
"There's talk of reaching out to ask but that would be a political call and I don't think anyone recommends that at this time."
To which the Global Affairs deputy director Brendan Sutton responded, "Well put Amy."