October 3, 2009 – Minister of Transportation John Baird hopes to go to
Ethiopia later this month to pressure the Ethiopian government to
release a Canadian citizen who is serving a life sentence there.
Bashir Makhtal, who was convicted in August of being a member of a
separatist group and engaging in an armed struggle against the Ethiopian
government, is an ethnic Somali born in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. The
former Torontonian was arrested more than two and a half years ago. He
and his family here have always maintained his innocence.
Baird said he has been increasingly frustrated by the case and the
government's many attempts to meet with senior Ethiopian officials both
in New York during the UN meetings last week and in Addis Ababa.
He has attempted to go to Ethiopia and meet with officials there on
several occasions, but his trip has repeatedly been postponed because
senior officials were unable to meet with him. "I'm frustrated," said
Baird. "Bashir's family is frustrated. We need to step it up a notch and
take the case directly to senior officials in Addis Ababa."
Baird said he has applied for a visa to travel to Ethiopia and hopes to
fly there during the Parliamentary break after Thanksgiving weekend.
Baird said he respects the fact Ethiopia is an independent country, but
the Ethiopian government must understand for the Canadian government
this case continues to be an "important priority."
"I'm prepared to take the case to Addis Ababa directly on behalf of the
government and the people of Canada," Baird said. "He's (Makhtal) a
Canadian and there is no evidence he has done a thing wrong and his
government is standing behind him 100 per cent. We'll keep up the fight
for Bashir. We're not going away on this. My desire to go to Ethiopia
underlines the priority the government gives the case. We consider
Ethiopia a friend and we want to make the case directly to that friend."
Baird's comments come just before a news conference that took place this
morning on Parliament Hill with Bashir Makhtal's cousin Said,
representatives from Amnesty International, the NDP, and Bashir
Makhtal's Canadian lawyer Lorne Waldman.
The group plans to plead for direct intervention in the case from the
Prime Minister of Canada. Said Makhtal – while appreciative of Baird's
repeated attempts to help his cousin and other efforts by government
representatives such as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Deepak Obhrai and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon – is also
frustrated by what he sees as a lack of action.
"I've been getting all kinds of promises that our government is doing
the best it can ...but I would like to see some results from that. We
have given enough time to the Ethiopian government to settle the case. I
want Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bring my cousin back to Canada.
The government admits it's a wrongful conviction. What are we waiting
for? I'm asking the government of Canada to forcefully request the
release of my cousin. I believe the pressure has to come from the Prime
Minister of Canada."
Source: Toronto Star, Oct. 01, 2009