The forgotten detainee?
Finance Minister of Ontario, Charles Sousa announces the creation of a council to review Hydro One, OPG, and the LCBO during a luncheon for the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Friday, April 11, 2014. (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
Imagine you’re a dad with four young kids, and a wife who is a school principal. Imagine you’re an engineering graduate of a Canadian university, and you do a lot of charity work.
Imagine you get the political bug, and get involved in a campaign, and you win and you get to write memos for the boss about helping minorities, and you even get to meet Hillary Clinton.
Then, imagine you kiss your wife and kids one morning, head off to work, and a bunch of big guys storm into your office. They’re shouting and waving weapons and they hustle you and your co-workers off to the worst prison in the country.
Imagine they toss you in a concrete cell slightly bigger than a broom closet. Imagine you get a blanket, but nothing else. None of your medication, no clean underwear, no visits by your wife or kids.
Now, imagine that’s been going on for nine months. And imagine that your MPP, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, doesn’t even return the calls of your family. And imagine that the federal minister who is supposed to do something about this, John Baird, hasn’t done a damned thing to help you.
Khaled al-Qazzaz doesn’t have to imagine any of that stuff. It’s what has happened to him.
Full disclosure: I met his wife, Sarah, last week. Some of her classmates at U of T thought I could help her out. I brought along some colleagues and family to meet Sarah – and, afterwards, all of us decided to help.
Sarah is tiny. It looks like a strong wind could blow her away, she seems so fragile. But she’s tough, tough as steel – and she’s kept the family going, and she’s kept her kids safe, while her husband remains captive in the worst part of one of the worst places on Earth.
She’s going back to Egypt, and God knows what fate, in three weeks. She decided to come back home to Canada, with the kids, to raise awareness of Khaled’s plight, and to seek – to beg – for the help of the likes of Baird and Sousa. Sarah is Canadian, and so are the kids. Khaled is a permanent resident, but was born in Egypt. Which could be why the government is not intervening?
He and Sarah met while they were both chemical engineering students, in front of the Second Cup on University Ave. in Toronto. She fell in love with him – with his passion and his intelligence and his desire to help people. He started up a campus group called Students for World Justice, and it’s still going. He raised money for an orphanage.
He told Sarah he wanted to go home to set up a school, and give Egyptian kids – kindergarten to Grade 12 – the sort of education he was privileged to get in Canada. Sarah became the school’s principal.
The Arab Spring happened. Khaled was swept up in it. He saw a chance to bring democracy to Egypt, for the first time in its centuries of history. He joined the Freedom and Justice Party, and caught the attention of its leader, Mohammed Morsi. He wasn’t a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or anything like that. The party won the 2012 election, fair and square, and Khaled got hired as staffer.
He wrote memos for the boss about human rights. He agitated for minority rights, for Jews and Christians. Then, on July 3 of last year, he sent Sarah a text message that chilled her blood: “Forgive me.”
He had decided to stay at work, on the day Morsi and others were seized by men dressed in black. He was thrown into Cairo’s sprawling al-Aqrab pison, where he has remained ever since.
Sarah and her four kids need help to get Khaled back to Canada – or, at the very least, to get him better living conditions.
And imagine this: Baird and Sousa won’t give it.