Suaad Hagi Mohamud botched interviews

The Canadian woman who was stranded in Kenya for several months (previously talked about here and here) had problems identifying a local landmark, the full name of our local transit system, and the full name of her place of employment, despite living in this city for ten years.  Not to mention the birth date of her only son and the date of her first marriage.

That is rather profoundly incurious or scatterbrained.  My mother would die of embarassment if she found she couldn’t give my birth date and time, the name of the hospital, and other anecdotal details.  That level of stupidity or forgetfulness would be enormous, but in my experience wouldn’t necessarily exceed the average one can encounter in native-born Torontonians.

The point of interest—to me—is that no one in officialdom is claiming that the person in her photo ID documents (drive’s license, health card, passport) isn’t the person that showed up at the airport to board the plane.  That was the basis of her detainment by Kenyan security officials, after all.

So what we learn from these new details is that Suaad Hagi Mohamud is an ignoramus who can’t handle high-pressure situations.  And that once the High Commission started interviewing her, they didn’t focus on any sort of biometric discrepancies but rather her knowledge of local geography and day-to-day activities.

All of this suggests one thing to potential travellers:  If you can’t identify your only offspring’s date and circumstances of birth, the full name of the place you work, and the full name of your local transit system, leaving the country and going to places where members of your former nationality are routinely shaken down by airport workers seems to be a stupendously bad idea.

UPDATE: The Vancouver Sun has more details:

Paul Jamieson, the Canadian immigration officer who conducted the interviews, said despite having lived in Toronto for 10 years, Mohamud was unable to name any of the transit stops she would have used frequently, described the Toronto Transit Commission as the TTS and said it stood for Toronto Transportation.

She was unable to describe in any detail how she obtained her Ontario driver’s licence, could not name Lake Ontario or the current or previous prime ministers of Canada, the court documents allege.

Mohamud also provided the wrong birth date for her son and lacked details on the circumstances or place of his birth, Jamieson said. She also did not recognize a person listed as a reference on her passport application and had a different signature compared to her passport and immigration application.

She could not explain what she did for her employer, ATS, nor did she know the acronym stood for Andlauer Transportation Services, according to the affidavit.

The court documents also note a six- or seven-centimetre difference in height between the woman interviewed in Nairobi and the height indicated on the Ontario driver’s licence of Mohamud.

Toward the end of the second interview, the consular official said he “had begun to suspect” the woman he was speaking with was a slightly younger sister of Mohamud.

Jamieson said he reviewed the photo taken of Mohamud when she entered Kenya and was of the opinion her face was “considerably fuller” than the woman he interviewed.

While some previous media reports have suggested that questions about her passport photo was the main reason she was detained, the consular official said he could not reach a “conclusive assessment” on the photo alone.

“I was certainly not satisfied that the two women were the same, but I was also not satisfied that the differences could not be explained by factors such as aging or weight loss. In making my final assessment of identity, I therefore chose to afford the greatest weight to the results of the two interviews I had conducted with the person concerned,” Jamieson’s affidavit states. “In light of the subject’s numerous contradictions and admissions of ignorance, and her hesitant and evasive demeanour throughout the interview, I was satisfied the person in front of me was not the rightful holder of the passport.”

— Huber, Jordana.  “Stranded Canadian couldn’t name date, place of son’s birth, PM.” Canwest News Service, 29 September 2009.  [Emphasis mine]

Being generous and assuming that no sister switcheroo was being attempted, how do you not know how you got your driver’s licence?  Really?  And not knowing the details of your own job?  Having an interview with a skeptical consular official is no picnic, I am sure, but knowing that your right of return will be weighed against the answers you give, I think any reasonable person would try to give the most complete information that they could.

Travelling while being an idiot is not a crime, but based on what is known so far, it is hard to see how this incident could have had any different resolution than it did.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
4 Responses
  1. Nathan B. says:

    I, too, read that article today, and I’m dumbfounded. I can imagine how one might forget the date of one’s birth when under pressure. I can imagine that an immigrant might not know the acronym TTC. Nevertheless, how could anyone not know the stops on the subway that they would use? Even while in Korea, I did better than that; in fact, I memorized most of the stops on most of the lines. Not knowing the full name of one’s company would be tantamount to declaring that one’s job was of no value.

    The only thing I can conclude is that, apart from a sister-switcheroo (the idea occurred to me, too), the woman came to Canada without speaking any English, was helped into her job, house, and commute by others in her linguistic community, and then she simply tuned everything out while somehow acquiring English.

    The other thing I wonder about is what language Mohamud’s interviews were conducted in, whether her interviewer in the Canadian High Commission spoke with a thick accent with which she was unfamiliar (in other words, French), and how much English she knows today. I got the impression from the news reports that she was at the very least a competent, fluent speaker.

    I think the government needs to get to the bottom of this, particularly since it will likely be on the hook for a financial settlement.

    [NOTE: Edited for clarity]

  2. Nathan B. says:

    Sorry–“one’s son’s birth.” This is particularly so, since in some cultures, a different calendrical system is used. My wife once had trouble remembering the date of her birth on our western solar calendar, and to this day her parents celebrate their own birthdays according to the traditional Korean lunar calendar.

  3. Chris Taylor says:

    There is also the possibility that DFAIT or the consular official is exaggerating or outright lying. My gut feeling is that we will hear about sordid deeds on both sides (i.e. DFAIT might be covering up some misdeed, and the woman might be concealing something of the same). Which would muddy the water an awful lot more.

    I also concur that language difficulties may potentially have exacerbated the lack of response to seemingly ordinary questions.

    In any event I am eagerly awaiting more information on this story because one way or another, it will end up telling us a lot about how DFAIT functions and how our own immigration procedure might be improved. So far as we know, Mohamud was not equipped to satisfy the High Commission’s interviewer, and that might be a situation many immigrants are in.

  4. Nathan B. says:

    Thanks so much for the edit. I very much agree with you about learning how DFAIT functions, and I am going to keep both eyes out for updates to this story.