Canadians on their own if fighting for ISIS

KEN POLE  –  Feb 6, 2019

Canada will not put its diplomats and consular staff at risk to bring back any Canadian “foreign fighters” from Syria, said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on 5 February. He was commenting on a United States appeal to its allies to accept prisoners captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they fight ISIS warriors. A number of Canadians have been known to travel to Syria to join ISIS, and some have been captured.

“The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF,” a State Department spokesman said on 4 February in the run-up to a meeting of coalition partners in Washington to discuss the future of Syria.

The spokesman did not say how many prisoners were being held, but other U.S. officials have been quoted as saying it could be approximately 850.

When Goodale was asked outside the House of Commons whether Canada would heed Washington’s request, he replied that while “the Canadian share of that problem is relatively small […] it’s a matter that we take very seriously.”

That said, Canada would not endanger officials’ lives. “The issue is, in part, working with our allies to make sure that we are collecting the maximum amount of usable evidence that can be practically available and usable in a Canadian court system to lay charges, to prosecute. That’s difficult […] when most of that evidence comes from a battlefield in a dysfunctional part of the world half a world away.”

He said problems with gathering evidence had been shared with Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes and the G7 “for quite some time” but it was “not an issue that can be resolved with the flick of a pen. […] My abiding concern is always public safety and national security. and I want to make sure that those two imperatives are properly delivered on behalf of Canadians.”

When it was suggested that a U.S. withdrawal from the region – mooted more than a month ago by President Donald Trump – would leave prisoners in the hands of an SDF ill-equipped to keep them, Goodale pointed out that they had opted “to go halfway around the world to engage with terrorist organizations” and so need “to assume the responsibility for their behaviour.”

The priority, he added, is “to make sure that we’re collaborating with all of our allies to keep ourselves […] collectively safe.”

As for children born to Canadian “foreign fighters” in Syria being at risk, Goodale described the parents’ behaviour as “absolutely appalling and reprehensible” but said Ottawa would “examine carefully what can reasonably done to protect those who are innocent in these circumstances. […] It’s a very difficult problem; there is no easy answer where you can snap your fingers and say ‘presto, they’re protected’.”