10/05/2011 06:08 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Feds to face queries on barring Tunisian ex-pats from voting in first free vote

OTTAWA - Three senior officials from the Foreign Affairs Department will face questions Thursday from a Commons committee over a policy that will prevent Tunisians in Canada from voting in elections in the North African country later this month.

Voting in Tunisia's national assembly elections takes place later this month to elect a constituent assembly after the ouster of long-time president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The uprising in Tunisia marked the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring uprising in North Africa earlier this year.

Canadian Tunisians were allowed to vote in elections that Ben Ali won. Most observers now agree those votes were not free and fair.

Tunsia wants Canada to be part of a diaspora riding, but Foreign Affairs says it will not permit such "extra-territorial constituencies."

Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada supports Tunisia's democratic aspirations.

"But we have expressed to Tunisia our wish that it not create a foreign voting district or riding that would include Canada. No one should represent Canada—or a part of Canada—as a constituency in a foreign elected assembly," Baird said in a statement in late September.

"This policy does not apply uniquely to Tunisia; it is a matter of Canadian sovereignty."

A senior Canadian official, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said the government doesn't want foreign politics played out on Canada's streets.