Skip to content

Canadian home after 15 years in prison in Egypt

After spending a third of his life in an Egyptian prison on espionage charges he denied, Joseph Attar returned to Canada on Friday morning.

“I’m back, I’m back to life,” Attar told CTV News via Skype from Toronto. “For the first time in 15 years, I can take a hot shower on my own. No more cold water on my body. I can eat a real meal, a hot meal. I can have my whole bed to sleep in.

Attar, 45, holds Canadian and Egyptian nationalities and was working as a bank teller in Toronto in January 2007 when he was arrested upon arriving in Cairo on what he said was a trip to see family.

Accused of spying for Israel, Attar was sentenced to 15 years in prison by an Egyptian court in April.

“My verdict has already been given before I arrived at the hearing,” Attar said.

Attar has pleaded not guilty and has long maintained his innocence. During the trial, alleged confessions were published by Egyptian newspapers and used as evidence against him, which Attar and his lawyer say were obtained under torture.

When reporters were briefly allowed near the metal cage he occupied in court, Attar said he was electrocuted and forced to drink his own urine during four weeks in solitary confinement.

“I am innocent,” Attar told reporters in a rare exchange in March 2007. “I have done nothing wrong at all. And I never cheated on Canada.

Previously known as Mohammed el-Attar, he was accused of being paid to collect information on Egyptians and Arabs in Turkey and Canada for Israel, which has also denied the allegations.

During Attar’s trial, his lawyer criticized prosecutors for “focusing” on his client’s “homosexual behavior”. Attar is a convert from Islam to Christianity, which was also a point of contention for the prosecution.

In one friday tweet, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Jolie said: “Canada has been there to support Mr. Attar and raise his case repeatedly at the highest levels.

Attar says he appreciates recent efforts, but felt neglected and abandoned by Canada’s previous government.

“Mr. Stephen Harper and his government… totally dumped me and left me in the bush,” Attar said on Friday.

Having been tortured in Egypt himself, Majed El Shafie of Toronto has been advocating for Attar’s release since 2017. Today, he and Attar met face to face for the first time.

“I hate to say that now our Canadian government is more focused on celebrity business than important Canadian business,” El Shafie told CTV via Skype.

Unfortunately, Attar has little to return to Canada, as his parents and only family here died while he was in prison. He says he wants to forgive those who mistreated and abused him as he recovers from the trauma and starts his life over.