Rights group blasts Ottawa for not helping detained ISIL members, families

Rights group blasts Ottawa for not helping detained ISIL members, families

Rights group blasts Ottawa for not helping detained ISIL members, families

OTTAWA — The federal government has been accused of violating its international human-rights obligations by refusing to help dozens of Canadian men, women and children detained in squalid camps in Syria because of their suspected links to the Islamic State.

The accusation by New York-based Human Rights Watch is in a scathing report released Monday that calls on Ottawa to immediately begin bringing the detainees home — starting with the 26 Canadian children known to be in the camps.

One of those children is a five-year-old orphan known as Amira who was found on the side of a road last year after her parents and siblings were killed in an airstrike and whose case has been raised with the federal Liberal government in the past.

“The government of Canada is flouting its international human rights obligations toward Canadians who are arbitrarily detained in northeast Syria,” reads the 92-page report, which included interviews with detainees, families and Canadian and foreign officials.

“The obligations that Canada has breached include taking necessary and reasonable steps to assist nationals abroad facing serious abuses including risks to life, torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment.”

It goes on to paint a disturbing picture of conditions in the camps, with food and clean water in short supply while disease and violence are rife. Children were seen drinking worm-infested water while “morality police” hunted women who criticized ISIL.

The Human Rights Watch report is the latest to take aim at the federal government when it comes to Canadians detained in northeastern Syria following the collapse of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeatedly defended his government’s largely hands-off approach on Monday as he noted Canada does not have diplomats on the ground in Syria and emphasized the safety concerns associated with sending officials to the area.

“We have a responsibility as a government to ensure that Canadian citizens, particularly employees, are not put into danger, are not exposed to grave situations,” Trudeau said during his daily news conference outside his Ottawa home.

“Syria is an area where we do not have any diplomats or any Canadians on the ground and therefore we work through intermediaries to try and provide consular assistance as best we can.”

Yet Human Rights Watch noted Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and the United States had all repatriated children, and in some cases their mothers, since October. That included 10 French orphans and children in June.

The federal government also recently helped 40,000 Canadians return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization said, including 29 from Syria. The 47 known Canadians in the Syrian detainee camps include eight men, 13 women and 26 children.

“Although Canadian authorities do not cite potential political fallout as a reason, in 2017 Trudeau faced a backlash simply for supporting rehabilitation programs for Canadian (ISIL) suspects who return home,” the rights group wrote.

“To be sure, the repatriations are not always popular,” it added, noting an attempt to repatriate a Norwegian mother and child led to the collapse of that country’s government. “But the vast majority of repatriations have taken place with little or no controversy.”

The Canadian detainees in the camps administered by Kurdish-led organization include Mohammed Khalifa, who has been described as an ISIL propagandist, and Jack Letts, a dual British-Canadian national dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by British media.

The British government revoked Letts’s citizenship last year. Neither the Liberal government nor the official Opposition Conservatives have expressed enthusiasm for returning him to Canada despite repeated pleas from his family.

Human Rights Watch argued for repatriation as the best — and potentially only — way to hold Canadian ISIL members to account as there is no process in Syria to investigate and prosecute those suspected of crimes.

“None of the Canadians has been charged with any crime,” it added. “Nor have the Canadians been brought before a judge to review the legality and necessity of their detention, making their continuing captivity arbitrary and unlawful.”

At the same time, the group raised the question of whether Canadian authorities are withholding or limiting consular assistance from those in the camps because of their suspected links to ISIL, which it says would also violate international law.

Trudeau repeatedly sidestepped questions Monday about whether the government’s reluctance to intervene is because the Canadians in the camps were linked to ISIL, but did at one point note the potential for investigations and prosecution.

“We recognize that we need to try and help all Canadians,” he said, before adding: ”It is more complicated when we talk about the fact that a number of these people could face charges when they return to Canada, for their activities linked to terrorism.”

An annual federal report on extremism last year said some 190 people with connections to Canada are suspected of terrorist activity abroad and, in addition, approximately 60 had returned.

A small number of the 60 returnees had come back from Turkey, Iraq or Syria but many who remain abroad were said to lack valid travel documents, find themselves on a no-fly list or fear being arrested on Canadian soil.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 29, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

File Photo
Blackfalds RCMP seeking suspects in traffic collision

RCMP are asking the public for help identifing two suspects wanted for multiple offences

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read