Canadian freed after 11 years in an Ethiopian jail calls for inquiry into Ottawa’s response

OTTAWA—A Canadian man who was jailed in Ethiopia for 11 years is calling for an investigation into the federal government’s handling of his case, which began as he fled war-ravaged Somalia in 2006 and ended with his long-sought return to Canada last month.

Bashir Makhtal made the call for an inquiry on Parliament Hill Tuesday, when he recounted how he endured years of solitary confinement and abuse during his imprisonment in Ethiopia, where he was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to life in jail in 2009.

Makhtal has always maintained his innocence, and alleged Tuesday that Canada’s consular service missed opportunities to help him as human rights advocates and his family pushed for years to secure his release.

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“Because I could not get help from the Canadian government at the time I needed it, I accepted death,” said Makthal, 49.

“I want to know if the Canadian government knowingly neglected my case.”

Adam Austen, spokesperson to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an emailed statement that the government welcomes Ethiopia’s decision last month to pardon and release Makhtal. Austen said that Freeland’s parliamentary secretary, Mississauga MP Omar Alghabra, visited Makhtal in Ethiopia and met with him again in Ottawa on Tuesday.

He did not say whether the government would consider launching an investigation into Makhtal’s case.

“We are always looking for ways to improve Canada’s consular services. This includes listening to recommendations on consular services from Canadians who have faced difficulties abroad — as Mr. Alghabra is doing today — as well as to views from civil society,” Austen said.

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“There is nothing more important to this government than the safety and security of Canadians.”

Makhtal — who was born in Ethiopia and moved to neighbouring Somalia when he was 7 — emigrated to Canada in 1991, became a citizen in 1994 and lived in Toronto, where he worked as a computer technician for CIBC. He later took a job in Djibouti with his friend’s clothing company, and frequently travelled between Canada and Africa, he said.

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