TORONTO — A Canadian woman who was stranded in Kenya by false claims that she was an impostor has launched a $2.5-million lawsuit against the federal government over her three-month ordeal.
The federal government owes Suaad Hagi Mohamud an apology and should strike a public inquiry to find out whether her race was a factor in her alleged mistreatment by Canadian officials, her lawyers said Friday.
“I was alone when my government let me down,” said Mohamud, 31.
“I don’t care about money. … I’m only (going) to court so this never happens to another Canadian citizen.”
Mohamud, who was born in Somalia and has lived in Canada for 10 years, was detained and barred from leaving Kenya after authorities said her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo.
Canadian officials branded her an imposter, voided her passport and handed it over to Kenyan authorities for prosecution.
Mohamud was jailed for nine days, not knowing whether she would ever see her 12-year-old son again.
It was a “horrible time,” she said. The jail was overcrowded. She slept on the floor. Children were locked up with their mothers.
“I never want another Canadian to go through such a troubled thing,” she said.
“One lady had blood on her hand. They said it was blood from the person she killed. I was afraid. I couldn’t sleep.”
Mohamud returned to Toronto last Saturday after genetic tests proved her identity and the charges against her were dropped.
Her son Mohamed, who was left in the care of family friends, is so traumatized that every time she leaves, he is afraid that she will never return, Mohamud said.
One of her lawyers, Julian Falconer, called her ordeal Kafkaesque, saying he’d never seen anything like it.
An inquiry is needed to probe whether Mohamud’s race and culture played a role in how she was treated, said Falconer, who represented Maher Arar in his lawsuit against Ottawa.
“If a Caucasian person had been in Suaad’s position in Kenya, would she have received the callous and reckless treatment she did?” he said.
“We don’t know the answer. We need someone to look at it and answer that question, because frankly, I find it hard to believe that a white, Anglo-Saxon person in her position would have been treated the same way.”
Lawyer Raoul Boulakia, who tried to secure Mohamud’s return through the courts, said federal officials refused to provide information that would have shed light on what happened to her.
The public may never see the results of an internal government investigation into Mohamud’s case either, he added.
“I believe it’s because they didn’t want to give me all the ammunition to prove that they did a completely negligent job of investigating her identity,” he said.