Cape Breton Post
Police, feds not chasing alleged sexual predators
SYDNEY — Three foreign students who skipped bail on sexual assault charges over the past 15 years are free to travel the world.
There are no Interpol red notices listed for Saudi Arabian citizens Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi and Taher Ali Al-Saba or Chinese citizen Ertai Lu.
The Cape Breton Regional Police and the Halifax Regional Police have refused to say whether they sought red notices from the international police agency that are meant to raise a flag when an accused crosses an international border.
“We are unable to speak to the specifics of open investigations,” said Halifax Regional Police to questions from The Chronicle Herald regarding whether it had sought Interpol red notices for Al-Saba or Lu. “What we can confirm is that we have the ability to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies such as Interpol in situations where individuals we have charged have left the country.”
Lu, a Chinese foreign student at Saint Mary’s University, didn’t show up for his 2017 preliminary inquiry on a sexual assault charge resulting from an alleged rape at the Westin Hotel earlier that year.
Taher Ali Al-Saba, who was in Halifax taking an English course, skipped bail in 2007 on charges of sexual interference by touching and sexual assault involving two victims, one of whom was under 14 years old.
The Cape Breton Regional Police did not respond to a request over whether it had sought a red notice for Alzoabi. The Saudi Arabian foreign student at Cape Breton University skipped bail on charges of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement, uttering threats, criminal harassment, dangerous driving and assault with a weapon related to two victims in incidents that occurred in Sydney in 2016 and 2017.
In all three cases, police had seized the passports of the accused.
Without passports, the three would have required travel documents from their embassies to leave the country. Staff at the courthouse in Sydney told The Chronicle Herald in 2019 that Alzoabi’s $37,500 bail was paid in cash by someone from the Saudi Araian embassy, though later the Public Prosecution Service stated it could no longer confirm that.
Calls to the Chinese and Saudi Arabian embassies by The Chronicle Herald in 2019 asking if this occurred were not returned.
“This is a matter of Canada’s jurisdiction to operate its own criminal justice system independently on its own territory,” said Robert Currie, a Dalhousie University professor of international law, on Monday. “We can say conclusively that it has been interfered with and with reasonable certainty that it has been interfered with by foreign states.”
South of the border, the Federal Bureau of Investigation went further than “reasonable certainty.”
“The FBI asseses (redacted) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia almost certainly assists US-based Saudi citizens in fleeing the United States to avoid legal issues, undermining the U.S. judicial process,” reads a heavily redacted internal FBI memo released to Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon last January. “This assessment is made with high confidence.”
The legal and political response in the United States has been far stronger than in Canada
The Oregonian/Oregon Live newspaper found five cases in its state where Saudi Arabian nationals had been able to escape prosecution, potentially with the assistance of its embassy. They include two accused rapists, a pair of suspected hit-and-run drivers and one man with child porn on his computer. In the case of Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, U.S. Marshalls allege the embassy even arranged for a private plane to whisk the 21-year-old out of the country two weeks before he went to trial for killing a 15-year-old girl.
LOBBYING FOR PRESSURE
In response, Wyden put forward and saw passed the Saudi Fugitives Declassification Act that forced the release of FBI investigations into these types of incidents. The senator is currently lobbying the Biden administration to put more pressure on Saudi Arabia.
The Chronicle Herald attempted to tabulate the extent of the issue in Canada by contacting the equivalent of Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service in each province. Each provincial agency responded that they don’t track the cases and don’t have a search field in their archive systems that would allow for a search. For its part, Global Affairs Canada did not directly answer a question from The Chronicle Herald asking whether it had broached the issue with either the Saudi Arabian or Chinese embassies.
“The Government of Canada takes cases of assault or violence extremely seriously,” reads the statement received Friday. “Canada regularly raises issues of concern via confidential state-to-state dialogue, including measures to address crimes committed by foreign nationals in Canada.”
Internal communications obtained by The Chronicle Herald via an access to information request show that back when the issue became international news in 2019, there was no intention by Global Affairs to raise the issue with either embassy.
“Justice are looking into whether they are in a position to respond regarding extradition, but my colleague is not optimistic,” responded then Global Affairs communications lead Phillip Hannan to an inquiry from then minister Chrystia Freeland’s parliamentary press secretary .
“... Justice felt the other questions are ours to answer. However, no one in the department has engaged on the file. No contact has been made with the Saudi embassy in the regard. I’m advised (that Riyadh) has not engaged either.”
The FBI memo states that unless pressure is brought to bear politically, they expect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to continue the practice of assisting their citizens in avoiding prosecution.
Alzoabi’s LinkedIn account touts his degree from Cape Breton University and states that he currently works as a human resources manager for the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, a Saudi Arabian development agency.
“On the international stage, the Government of Canada is committed to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls — a priority at the centre of Canada’s foreign policy and international assistance efforts,” continues the response from Global Affairs. “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy includes support for comprehensive approaches that help end all forms of sexual and genderbased violence. We continue to work with our partners, including through multilateral forums, to stand up for all women and girls who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence or harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.”
Currie would like to see the federal government stand up for both Canadian victims of sexual assault and the sovereignty of our court system by making an effort to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.
“These are child and female victims of sexual assault,” said Currie, who along with a research assistant is preparing a paper on the issue. “This is very difficult stuff. And yes, it is not like Justin Trudeau can just call up the king of Saudi Arabia and say, ‘Hey, can you send these guys back.’ But the silence is deafening out of Ottawa.”