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10-year-old Calgary boy asks Santa to free friends’ dad from Turkish prison

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A Calgary mom is forwarding her son’s heartbreaking letter to Santa along to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as they might have more sway than Saint Nick in fulfilling her child’s request.

Ten-year-old Douglas Hsu’s letter didn’t focus on the gifts he wants for Christmas. Instead, he asked that the father of two of his friends be released from a Turkish prison.

He used to be classmates with Vedat and Cemil Hanci. The Hanci boys moved to Ontario in 2016, after their father, Calgarian Imam Davud Hanci was detained in Turkey.

Douglas Hsu, 10, said all he wants for Christmas is for Davud Hanci to be reunited with his family. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

He has since been sentenced to 15 years in Turkish prison on allegations he was connected to an attempted coup. Relatives say he was visiting his sick father at the time and was not involved.

The two families have stayed close, and when Douglas started drafting his letter to Santa, his mom Lindsay Connick said he had only one thing on his mind and couldn’t be swayed.

‘I’d like him to free our friend’

“He just said ‘mom, you know what, Santa’s a super magical guy.’ And he said ‘since he’s magical, you know what I’d like to ask for, for Christmas this year?'” Connick said. “And I said, ‘what’s that Douglas?’ And he said ‘I’d like him to free our friend Davud.’ And I was just taken aback and didn’t know how to respond right away.”

Connick said she told him it was a big ask and very noble.

Douglas Hsu, 10, asked for his friend’s dad, Davud Hanci, to be freed from a Turkish prison. 1:07

“Dear Santa, Thank you so much for caring for the world’s families,” Douglas wrote.

“This year, my friend’s dad was sentenced to 15 years in jail after the two years he’s been in this cold Turkish prison. I wondered if you could help me free him …That’s really all I want, I wouldn’t like anything else.”

Lindsay Connick and her son Douglas Hsu, pictured with Rumeysa Hanci and her sons this summer in Toronto. (Submitted by Lindsay Connick)

Douglas said it made him sad that his friends weren’t going to have their dad with them for the holidays.

“I feel kinda sad that he’s in there ’cause he wouldn’t be with his family for Christmas, and then their family wouldn’t be together for a long time,” he told CBC News.

Connick sent her son’s letter to Freeland, Trudeau and local MP Len Webber, along with a letter of her own last week. She said she hasn’t heard back yet.

“My initial response was this was a big ask and Santa’s going to need some help,” Connick said.

It was so touching for me and I couldn’t hold my tears, and we cried on the phone for a long time.– Rumeysa Hanci , Davud  Hanci’s wife

She said she’s hoping government officials take the 10-year-old’s request to heart.

“One of the most important life lessons I feel we can all strive for is to be good to others,” she said.

Connick called Davud’s wife, Rumeysa, to tell her about Douglas’ letter.

“When she told me about Douglas’ letter to Santa, it was so touching for me and I couldn’t hold my tears and we cried on the phone for a long time,” Rumeysa said.

“He has such a warm heart and he has compassion.”

Rumeysa said it has been nearly two-and-a-half years since she and her sons have been separated from Davud.

“I try to be strong for my kids, you know, I am a mom,” she said, her voice breaking.

“We miss him so much.”

She said her husband is being held in solitary confinement. She asked her fellow Canadians to think of him and put themselves in his shoes.

Rumeysa Hanci, wife of Calgary imam Davud Hanci, who is imprisoned in Turkey, said her husband is being kept in solitary confinement. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

In July 2016, more than 75,000 people were arrested in Turkey in a crackdown following an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A state of emergency was instituted in the country that ended this July.

Hanci and many of those arrested were accused of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who was blamed for the attempted government overthrow. Family members have said Hanci has no connections to Gulen.

Before his arrest, he had been living with his wife and children in Calgary, working as an imam for Correctional Service Canada and the Alberta correctional services.

‘I try to keep my hope alive’

Rumeysa said she’s allowed to talk to her husband on the phone for 10 minutes each week at midnight because of the time difference.

“I am losing my hope of course … nothing has changed. But I try to keep my hope alive,” she said.

“I wish for the Canadian government to do something for him to be released.”

Calgarian Davud Hanci was sentenced to 15 years in a Turkish prison on what his family says are false charges. (Selman Durmus)

Brendan Sutton, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said consular officials are providing assistance to Hanci and his family and remain in contact with local authorities, but due to the Privacy Act further details cannot be released.

“We know how hard it is for family and friends when a Canadian is detained outside of the country,” Sutton said.

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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