04.28.2014 08:36 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: Baird, Sousa help a Canadian family

Two politicians who deserve some credit and kudos: federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and provincial Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

Now, that’s a bit of a change from just a few days ago. Earlier this month, Baird and Sousa came in for criticism for their apparent disinterest in the case of the forgotten detainee, as Sun News called him: Khaled al-Qazzaz. Khaled is a Mississauga man, a good man, who has been held in a Hellish Egyptian prison for nearly ten months. His wife Sarah is Canadian, and so are his four young kids.

His crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khaled had been working as an official in the democratically-elected government of the Freedom and Justice Party, advising president Mohammed Morsi about human rights issues. His focus had been improving the lives of Christians and Jews in Egypt, and women’s equality.

Until July 3 of last year, that is. On that day, black-shirted thugs marched into his Cairo office and grabbed Khaled. They threw him into a tiny cell in the worst part of Cairo’s al-Aqrab prison, where he has remained ever since. No bed, no pillow, nothing: just a thin blanket. No access to his heart medication, no access to his doctor or his lawyer. And, worst of all, no contact with Sarah or his kids.

He’s been getting sicker. His arm is paralyzed, and his condition is worsening. And, outside the walls of the prison, the situation in Egypt has gotten worse, too. Just yesterday, an Egyptian judge sentenced nearly 700 Muslim Brotherhood members to death for the slaying of a policeman. Hundreds of others linked to Morsi’s democratically-elected government have previously been executed by Egypt’s military regime. But the mass trial result has stunned Western governments and human rights groups.

For the past few days, Khaled’s schoolteacher wife has been back home in Canada, trying to draw attention to his plight. She’s been supported by many others, among them Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, who was unlawfully detained in Egypt for two months last year – as well as, full disclosure, members of my family and work colleagues.

Late last week, Sousa took time out of what must be a very busy schedule (he plans to table Ontario’s budget this week) to speak at length with Sarah about Khaled. Sousa, who was the Qazzaz family’s MPP, pledged to use all the means at his disposal to press for better conditions for Khaled and, ultimately, seek his release.

Baird, meanwhile, has been in Egypt on a Middle Eastern tour. While Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister doesn’t normally raise the cases of permanent residents, like Khaled, he did so anyway. “Minister Baird inquired about the family being able to visit Mr. al-Qazzaz, and [the Egyptians] assured that they could,” said one of his senior advisors this week. “Post-visit, Canadian officials also exchanged a diplomatic note with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dealing with the family being able to visit.”

So far, so good – and Sousa and Baird deserve some credit for dialing up the pressure on the homicidal Egyptian regime. However, Khaled still remains in prison, and he’s still getting sicker. And the cabal that imprisoned him is becoming ever-more erratic, with the mass death sentence trial being the most recent example.

More needs to be done, and soon. This week, Sarah is in Ottawa to meet with returning MPs and plead for help. Let’s hope she gets it.


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