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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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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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