Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

I am the founder and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. In December 2022, I was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for “leadership and expertise in digital technology, security and human rights, and for…groundbreaking contributions to cyber security around the globe.”

I am writing to express my alarm that Canadian authorities have flagged the Toronto-based human rights defender Noura Aljizawi as a national security risk.

Noura is a Syrian who has been actively speaking out against the human rights abuses in Syria. Her reputation as a leader in her field and her dedication to her work have made her a widely respected member of the human rights and digital security field worldwide.

I met Noura in 2016, when she came to Canada as part of the Citizen Lab Summer Institute after she was a target of an elaborate Iran-linked malware campaign. Noura actively joined in the investigation of the case as Citizen Lab undertook an investigation into her targeting, and eventually published a major report on our investigation, which was covered extensively in global media (

Afterwards, my colleagues and I encouraged Noura to enroll as a Scholar at Risk at Massey College at the University of Toronto, where she successfully completed her Masters of Global Affairs degree. Subsequently, I hired Noura as a full-time researcher, where she has integrated herself as an invaluable member of our team, and co-author of many Citizen Lab reports. Notably, she has helped lead our research team on investigations into the targeting and harassment of refugees and immigrants in Canada and around the world – a type of transnational repression that Noura herself knows only too well.

As a Canadian, I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their profession or beliefs, should be able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. As an academic, I am aware of the commitments our government has made to protecting the safety of academics and human rights activists. We speak a lot in this country about these values, and take pride in accepting individuals, like Noura, who have been forced to flee from their home countries because of repression, ill-treatment, and (in her case) arbitrary and unjust detention and torture.

In prosecuting the Syrian government’s war crimes, Canadian and Dutch government lawyers presented Noura’s testimony about her torture as evidence of the Assad regime’s crimes. Yet even in Canada, Noura has received death threats from Syrian regime-linked actors and still suffers from the trauma of the horrors she has endured. Despite all of this, as her employer I can testify that Noura continues to make important and impactful contributions to Canadian society every single day.

It is therefore inconceivable that Canadian authorities, rather than protecting and supporting Noura, have instead flagged her as a national security risk – a designation that makes no sense. Noura and her husband Bahr Abdul Razzak, also a Security Researcher at the Citizen Lab, applied for express entry to Canada as highly skilled technology workers. While applications are usually processed within a matter of months, they have been waiting for three years.

I expect the government of Canada to do the right thing in this case and ensure the protection of Noura Aljizawi and her family. I request that her Permanent Residency application be processed quickly, and that appropriate action be taken to ensure her safety and well-being in Canada.

I believe that Noura is an asset not only to the University of Toronto but also to our country and I expect an intervention and a prompt response to my letter of concern.


Professor Ronald J. Deibert, O.C., OOnt
Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
Director, the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of
315 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON, M5S 0A7
[email protected]