10/06/2011 05:01 EDT | Updated 12/06/2011 05:12 EST

Canadian Family Being Detained By Saudi Arabia, Says MP Jim Karygiannis

OTTAWA - A Canadian citizen, his wife and two young children have been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, a Liberal MP says.

Jim Karygiannis said Thursday that the Harper government is doing nothing to free the family.

At the very least, he said the children — two girls, aged 18 months and five years — should be released, regardless of what their parents are alleged to have done.

According to Karygiannis, Majeed Uddin Ahmed, his wife Zareen and their two girls were picked up by police two weeks ago in Jeddah, where the family has been living for about four years.

It's not clear what prompted the arrests.

Karygiannis said all four members of the family are being held in the "notorious" Dhaban prison in Jeddah, reportedly a high-security facility used to incarcerate terrorist suspects and political opponents.

If the parents have done something wrong, Karygiannis said, the Saudis can "throw the book at them."

"But let the kids go."

He added that one of the children is ill.

Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for foreign affairs, said Canadian officials are working to confirm the family has been detained and, if so, to gain access to them.

"We are aware of reports of this family being detained in Saudi Arabia," she told the House of Commons.

"Canadian officials have been working and will continue to work with local authorities to receive formal confirmation of the family's present situation. In addition, consular officials are seeking, if there is confirmation of the family's detention, to have consular access to the family."

Ablonczy added: "We are in constant daily contact with the family here in Canada and we will continue to work for the well-being of this family."

Amed's brother in Toronto, Junaid Ahmed, said a consular official is supposed to visit the detained family on Monday. Until then, he declined to comment on the case.

In the House of Commons, Karygiannis complained that relatives in Canada have been advised they'll have to wait for news until next week because Jeddah is not on the "route of travel" for Canadian diplomats in Saudi Arabia.

"These are two kids, two Canadian kids. Where does the minister get off not caring about two Canadian kids, and one of them sick?" he said later.

Karygiannis said he's been in close contact with Albonczy since the family was detained but she's done "absolutely nothing" to win release of the children.

A spokesman for Albonczy said the minister has spoken to Karygiannis about the case several times, as have her staff, "and will continue to do so as the well-being of all Canadians abroad is of great concern to our government."