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'Bullhorn' diplomacy won't free Canadian journalist in Egypt, says Baird

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Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohammed Fahmy gestures from the defendant's cage during a sentencing hearing in a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, June 23, 2014.(AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El Latif, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT

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Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohammed Fahmy gestures from the defendant's cage during a sentencing hearing in a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, June 23, 2014.(AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El Latif, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT

OTTAWA - "Bullhorn diplomacy" won't win the release of Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Tuesday in a pointed rebuttal to critics of his government's response to the imprisonment of the Al-Jazeera journalist.

Canada is pursuing all legal avenues to secure the release of Fahmy, the minister told Ottawa radio station CFRA.

The government is working hard to have Fahmy freed on appeal, or through a possible presidential pardon, Baird said.

"We want a successful resolution and I guess either way, critics of the government can win because if we're loud and vocal, we're practising bullhorn diplomacy and are not being professional," Baird said.

"But if we try to take the case directly to the leadership, we're accused of not standing up. I think you want to pursue the path that would be the most effective to resolving the case."

The terrorism charges and sentences against Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed have been widely condemned as bogus.

The seven-year sentences have been the subject of vocal condemnation by Australian and U.S. politicians, but some critics say the Harper government has been too muted in its response.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Tuesday he will not interfere in the rulings and said people should stop criticizing his country's courts.

Fahmy's family, the federal New Democrats and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have all urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call the Egyptian president personally.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau joined the fray Tuesday when he tweeted: "The Canadian government must speak out vigorously in defence of Canadians who are victims of a travesty of justice."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called el-Sissi to proclaim the innocence of the Australian journalist, while the country's foreign minister, Julia Bishop, said she was appalled by the severity of the verdict.

"I'll note that the Australian hasn't been released either," Baird said Tuesday.

Baird defended his junior minister, Lynne Yelich, who is responsible for consular affairs. Her widely criticized news release Monday merely said she was very disappointed with the sentence.

Yelich works hard and does a good job, Baird said, while his role as foreign minister is to make representations to his Egyptian counterpart, which he did on a visit to Cairo two months ago.

"We have many cases in Egypt of Canadians that are before the courts," Baird said without elaborating.

"When I met with the Egyptian foreign minister and had a long discussion of this case, they can't issue a presidential pardon unless there's a verdict, and until the appeals are exhausted, so obviously we're going to stay engaged with this file, with this case," Baird said.

Baird also confirmed that he and his deputy minister called in Egypt's ambassador on Monday and issued a formal diplomatic protest.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney told The Canadian Press in a separate interview Tuesday that taking a less vocal approach helped to free two other Canadians held in an Egyptian prison last year.

"We've been very outspoken and active on those cases," said Kenney.

"And sometimes, when you're dealing with a foreign government, experience teaches us that working directly with the relevant authorities is more effective than getting on a blowhorn."

Baird said Fahmy's case is complicated by the fact that he is a dual Egyptian and Canadian national, and also by the intertwined relationship between Al-Jazeera, its Qatari ownership and Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Fahmy and his two co-accused were convicted of giving a voice to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has labelled a terrorist group. They were accused of harming Egypt's national security.

The journalists deny the charges, and say they were only doing their jobs.

"One of the challenges of this case is that Al-Jazeera is, of course, funded by the government of Qatar, who is also directly funding the Muslim Brotherhood, and that's what makes this case more complex and adds a different dimension to it," said Baird.

He added: "I don't think anyone believes he's in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood, but obviously the government of Qatar had a close relationship."

— With files from Lee-Anne Goodman

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