THE BLOG

Welcoming Home John and Tarek From Egypt

10/16/2013 11:09 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The detention of Dr. Tarek Loubani and John Greyson was at the forefront of all Canadians' concerns for the 50 days they spent behind bars at Cairo's Tora Prison. Dr. Tarek Loubani is an emergency room physician in my riding and John Greyson is an acclaimed film-maker and professor at York University.

The pair of them had intended to be passing through Egypt on their way to Gaza where John would film Tarek's work in the al-Shifa hospital. However, due to the unrest in Egypt on that time, their travel plans to Gaza were delayed.

The protests had started to escalate and John told his family that upon hearing cries for a doctor, Tarek "snapped into doctor mode" and began to help those that he could whilst John recorded those efforts. After a tumultuous day, they had deemed it safe to head back to their hotel but thought it best to ask for help at a check point. As I'm sure everyone knows, this was the moment they were arrested.

In their statement they described a harrowing list of assaults while in custody. They used words like "caged"; "interrogated" and "beaten" to describe their treatment at the hands of authorities, while in custody.

During their imprisonment the pair had been subjected to nights sleeping on the floors of cockroach-infested cells shared with 36 other prisoners. These conditions led them to undertake a hunger strike in the hope they would be allowed more exercise time, which thankfully, they were granted after 17 days of hunger strike.

However, this small victory was not enough. With the amazing campaign led by the families, colleagues and community supporters of John and Tarek, the unlawful imprisonment of these Canadians was thrust into the centre of media attention. In addition to public expressions of solidarity, the community response was to create a petition calling for their release.

This petition received over 115,000 signatures, including the support of over 300 prominent cultural and academic figures. There was also a march through Victoria Park in my riding on September 24th organised again by the friends and families of John and Tarek as yet another demonstration calling for their release.

We were all relieved to receive the good news on Sunday October 6 that John and Tarek had been released from the Tora Prison. However, there was yet another delay for the pair. When they attempted to leave Egypt on a flight to Frankfurt, they were not allowed to board the plane because airline officials said they were on a "stop-list" issued by Egyptian prosecutors.

They were free to exit the airport with their luggage and went back to their hotel. Despite the five days of uncertainty about when they would be able to board their flight home, we remained hopeful. When they finally landed on Canadian soil on the evening of October 12, we were all profoundly relieved.

I would like to thank all those who contributed to the release of Tarek and John; their families who campaigned so tirelessly; NDP Consular Affairs Critic Wayne Marston and NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar who were both in constant contact with Minister Baird's and the Egyptian Ambassador's office on this file. They worked relentlessly to press the Egyptian authorities to release both men.

Most of all I would like to thank and commend John and Tarek for keeping their spirits and hopes up during such a traumatic time for them both. They are clearly special Canadians who inspired great pride and determination in their fellow citizens. I am very pleased to be joining the rest of Canada in welcoming John and Tarek home.