With the public agog over the feds' role in the Syrian torture of Canadians, its not easy to shift the spotlight to some of the Liberals' quieter misdeeds overseas. One could certainly ask lots of questions, for example, about why Canada is rebuffing the objections of the United Nations and quietly deporting Somali asylum-seekers to a country ruled by warring factions.
Since 2001, dozens of Somali refugees whose claims have been rejected in Canada have been dumped back in the fractious country.
"It's reprehensible that the government is taking advantage of the lawlessness to dump people as if they were human trash,' says immigration lawyer Raoul Boulakia.
That's the way the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sees the situation as well. In a recent report, UNHCR makes clear its opposition to the forced return of asylum-seekers to the anarchy of Somalia.
The report notes that large swaths of the country - now divided between the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the north, Puntland in the northeast and a divided entity in the south - remain unstable and prone to spasmodic warfare, especially in the south. In particular, the report says the UNHCR "considers that persons originating from southern Somalia are in need of international protection."
In January, Amnesty International opposed the deportation of a Toronto Somali woman. AI's press release argues that in "much of the central and southern regions of Somalia there has been constant insecurity."
Then there's the question of the way Canada transports deportees (some of whom are considered war criminals from the era of dictator Siad Barre) to their destination. Somalia is without the rule of law and has no connection to international air travel. The only planes flying in and out of the country are old Soviet-era military aircraft looted from the collapsed government or old passenger jets bought on the black market, and they operate totally without regulation. Some believe they may be owned by warlords and assorted other criminals, the very people responsible for the exodus of refugees from Somalia.
According to immigration lawyers, Canadian officials take the deportees to Kenya or Djibouti. Once there, they bundle their human cargo onto chartered planes, leaving them to their fate. The officials themselves may not enter Somalia, so they can't confirm if their charges ever reach that country.
"No Canadian official gets involved in the actual transport; they just contract it to whoever happens to be flying in there, and it may be a drug runner or warlord or an arms runner," says Geraldine Sadoway, a lawyer at Parkdale Community Legal Services. "And these Canadian officials can get away with it because there's no government in Somalia."
Many of these cases go unchallenged, the refugees meekly accepting their fate. But the recent case of a woman who had lived in Canada for more than 10 years and was then ordered deported sparked outrage in the legal community. For the first time, lobbying by Downtown Legal Services and Amnesty International succeeded in stopping the deportation.
Suadh Abubakar was detained until a few weeks ago at the infamous Celebrity Inn detention centre in Mississauga. AI's press release stated that Abubakar "will be at risk of grave human rights abuses, including sexual violence, and as such she should not be returned to Somalia." The government backed off, and Abubakar is now free to reapply for refugee status.
It was a bizarre case. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had earlier decided that Abubakar, despite her claims, was not really Somali but Ugandan, because she lived in that country for a time before fleeing to Canada. Yet the board determined that she should be deported to Somalia, a finding that stunned her lawyers.
"If this wasn't tragic it would be laughable,' says Amina Shirazee, a lawyer from Downtown Legal Services who represented Abubakar.
Shirazee says the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) - the new security arm formed when Citizenship and Immigration Canada's deportation enforcement section merged with Canada Customs and Revenue in 1993 - told her they had Somali "travel documents' for Abubakar, something the lawyer finds bizarre.
"I challenge them to produce the documents," says Shirazee. "It would also be very interesting to find out who issued them, because Somalia has no government that issues travel documents. These officials are basically lying when they claim they have these.'
At CBSA, spokesperson Tsering Nanglu won't respond specifically about the deportations. He confirms that there are certain countries that Canada won't remove individuals to - but Somalia is not one of them. "Conditions in a given country are assessed by us constantly. And presently, there's no temporary suspension of removals to Somalia.'
Nor will he comment on what part of Somalia deportees are sent to. And when asked how it is that CBSA charters private planes that may belong to warlords, Nanglu responds, "We can't comment on this because of security concerns."
Nor will he say why Canada's assessment of deportee safety in Somalia differs so shockingly from the UN's.