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Does Canada abandon its own overseas?

Following a string of incidents in which some get treated like second-class citizens, upcoming elections give Canadians a chance to respond.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud, who was detained for three months in Kenya after authorities decided she didn't resemble her passport photo, embraces her son Mohamed Hussein upon her arrival at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Aug. 15, 2009. Mohamud had been trapped in Nairobi since May 21, when Canadian consular officials branded her an "imposter" and accused her of using a false passport. DNA testing in Canada from her son and ex-husband confirmed her identity. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — Nothing quite captures a bittersweet sense of despair in Canada as the end of summer. The long dark winter looms.

To make matters worse, falling temperatures have been marked in recent years by a corresponding rise in election fever. This end of summer, to the regret of many, is no different.

The season’s political tone was set two weeks ago by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard University professor with close ties to the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

He served notice that his party would no longer prop up the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That sets the stage for a possible federal election this fall, which would be the fourth in five and a half years.

In justifying why Canadians might head to the polls again only a year after the last federal election, Ignatieff dished out the usual charge of economic mismanagement. More original was his allegation that the Harper government is abandoning Canadian citizens in distress abroad.

“Being a Canadian must mean the Canadian government will stand up for you — no matter where, no matter when,” Ignatieff told a party congress. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

Suaad Hagi Mohamud isn’t so sure. Mohamud, 31, is a Canadian citizen of Somali origin. On May 21, after visiting her mother in Kenya, she was prevented from boarding a flight home. A Nairobi airport official claimed her lips and eyeglasses didn’t match those in her four-year-old passport photo. Mohamud, a single mother, was accused of being an imposter. Later, she tried to establish her identity by showing Canadian diplomats in Nairobi her Ontario driver’s licence, her government-issued health insurance card, her citizenship certificate, her social insurance card, a credit card, bank cards, a hospital card, a Shoppers Drug Mart card, a note from her Toronto employer and a Toronto dry cleaning receipt.

Diplomats also branded her an imposter, without explanation. Kenyan authorities jailed her for eight days before granting her bail.

With the help of Canadian-Somalis, she launched a court action in Canada to press her return, filed affidavits, offered fingerprints and lobbied for a DNA test. Still, Canada’s foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, insisted Mohamud had not done enough to prove her identity.