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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's government was accused of racism and abandoning its citizens on Wednesday when it emerged that officials had falsely accused a Canadian woman in Kenya of being an impostor, an act that led to her arrest.
Critics rounded on the minority Conservative government with unusual ferocity over the bizarre case, which could damage the ruling party's efforts to capture more votes from influential ethnic communities at the next election.
The story started in May when a passport officer at Nairobi airport refused to let Suaad Hagi Mohamud board a plane on the grounds that she did not look enough like her passport photo.
For reasons that are still unclear, the Canadian embassy annulled her passport and then told Kenyan authorities she was an impostor. Mohamud, 31, who spent a week in jail, took two months before she could persuade Ottawa to agree to a DNA test that proved her identity.
Mohamud is from ethnically diverse Toronto, the largest city in the country and a key electoral battleground in the powerful province of Ontario, where the Conservatives have put in a major effort to win seats.
"Something is fundamentally wrong when we can't count on the Canadian government to stand up for Canadians. I'm not sure I can put it any more directly than that," an unhappy Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters on Wednesday.
The Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulation newspaper, said the case was "a national scandal". The influential Globe and Mail said it was "shocking and unreasonable".
Critics noted that Mohamud was the latest in a line of foreign-born Canadian citizens who have run into trouble abroad and then found it hard to gain Ottawa's attention and help.
"In Canada today, God help you if you're not white, because the federal government sure won't ... this smacks not just of prejudice, but apartheid," wrote the Star's Christopher Hume.
Canadian government ministers have been silent about what happened, despite the increasing uproar. The Foreign Ministry said officials were working to help Mohamud return to Canada.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson