13 Canadian charity workers and volunteers detained in Ethiopia

Staff members and volunteers with a Canadian charity have been detained in Ethiopia.

Canadian Humanitarian, a charity registered in Medicine Hat, Alta., confirmed in a statement posted to its website Saturday that 10 Canadian volunteers, three Canadian staff members and two Ethiopian staff members were being detained.

“As of right now they are being investigated on the allegations that they were practising medicine without permission and had dispensed expired medication,” the statement read.

The charity said it had followed protocols to ensure it had the permits needed to provide medical support and care.

“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. Our medical groups are comprised of numerous doctors and medical professionals. The care they provide in Ethiopia is the same care they would provide here in Canada.”

The charity said it’s working with Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Embassy in Ethiopia to resolve the situation.

Global Affairs has contacted Ethiopian government

A spokesperson with Global Affairs told CBC News that it is aware Canadian citizens are detained in Ethiopia but couldn’t disclose much information due to provisions in the Privacy Act.

“We have raised this case directly with the government of Ethiopia and officials are in contact with local authorities to gather further information. Consular officials are providing consular services to the Canadian citizens and their families,” an emailed statement read.

Canadian Humanitarian was founded in Canada in 2003 and obtained charitable status in the U.S. under the name Kids Hope Ethiopia in 2008.

The charity said it has sent hundreds of volunteers on trips to provide education, medical and dental services to people in need.

Social media posts from volunteers on the trip suggest the group arrived in the country on Feb. 16 and were most recently in Gondar, a city about 430 kilometres north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

A former volunteer said in her experience the charity was well-organized and compliant with local regulations.

“[Founder Deborah Northcott] was very adamant that we followed the laws so that nothing would happen and we would not find ourselves in that [situation,]” said Shasta Mott, a Florida woman who volunteered with the charity on a trip to Ethiopia in 2015.

“It’s heartbreaking. I don’t think anybody ever goes on a trip like that with any ill intention.… I mean, the whole goal is to go help and take supplies and take what people need that they can’t get access to.”

A spokesperson for Canadian Humanitarian declined further comment Saturday, pointing to the charity’s statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Ethiopia earlier this month to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde as part of preparations to start negotiations toward a foreign investment protection agreement. It was also an effort to secure support from African nations as Canada aims to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council in June.

The Government of Canada’s current travel advisory states that visitors to Ethiopia should exercise a high degree of caution due to the country’s volatile security situation.


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