Canadian humanitarians detained in Ethiopia received bail

A group of 10 Canadian volunteers, three Canadians on staff and two Ethiopian staff members were in custody

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Ethiopian Minister for Foreign Affairs Gedu Andargachew gives a press conference jointly with Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Seleshi Bekele, on March 3, 2020 at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s office said he spoke to Mr. Andargachew about the detentions, but did not provide details from the call.

Charity says Canadian humanitarians detained in Ethiopia received bail

An Alberta-based humanitarian organization says 13 Canadians who work with the charity and were detained in Ethiopia have received bail.

Canadian Humanitarian said Saturday that a group of 10 Canadian volunteers, three Canadians on staff and two Ethiopian staff members were in custody in the African country on allegations they were practising medicine without permission and had dispensed expired medication.

The charity has disputed the allegations.

“With support of Canadian consular officials, Global Affairs Canada and legal representatives on the ground, Canadian Humanitarian can confirm that documentation is currently being processed that will hopefully see the detainees released on bail tomorrow,” it said in a statement Tuesday.

“At that point they will be free to move within the country, but it is uncertain when Ethiopian authorities will allow their return to Canada.”

James Murphy, a brother-in-law of one of the detainees, said the situation has been distressing for the families.

“We are focusing all of our efforts on getting our loved ones back to Canada safely and quickly,” he said in the statement.

The charity added that one of its representatives as well as consular officers have been permitted brief access to the prison and said the detainees have received fair treatment.

Edmonton Strathcona MP Heather McPherson, the NDP’s international development critic, said she has also been keeping a close eye on the situation.

“I am incredibly worried,” she said in an interview earlier Tuesday.

McPherson said she has been receiving regular updates from Global Affairs Canada about the case and heard they had received bail.

“It does look likely that they will be able to be removed from the prison, which is great news,” she said.

Global Affairs did not provide additional information Tuesday, but a spokeswoman again said they are fully engaged with Ethiopian officials.

Department officials are in contact with local authorities to gather more information, she said, while consular officials are working with the Canadians and their families.

Canadian Humanitarian said last week that the group’s mission was to provide essential medical care to Ethiopians.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of the expiry of the medication, we can with confidence say that all medicine and care offered by our team was safe,” said a Feb. 29 statement. “Our medical groups are comprised of numerous doctors and medical professionals.”

The organization is described as a registered charity that has been sending volunteers abroad to provide medical and dental support, along with other humanitarian services, since 2003.

McPherson, who’s a former executive director of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation, said she travelled to Gondar with Canadian Humanitarian in 2012.

“My experience is that they would understand the need of treating all people with the same level of health care,” she said. “They are accustomed to working in Ethiopia and they are accustomed to following the letter of what’s required.”

She said the charity follows a code of ethics developed by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation that sets operational standards.

McPherson said the detained Canadians included charity founders Dr. Richard Northcott and Deborah Northcott from Medicine Hat, Alta. Some of the others are from Alberta and British Columbia, she said.

“My first priority is making sure they are safe while they are in Ethiopia, making sure they are receiving as much support as we can give them through consular services and making sure the legal process … is done in a transparent way,” said McPherson.

“For me, right now, the biggest concern is their welfare and their safety. I want to see these Canadians — all these Canadians — come home.”

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press