Ottawa appeals repatriation of four men with alleged ties to ISIS

Federal Court Justice Henry Brown cited poor prison conditions in northeastern Syria and the absence of a trial and charges against the men for permitting their repatriation in January.

Ottawa appeals repatriation of four men with alleged ties to ISIS
AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad
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The Trudeau Liberals have appealed a Federal Court ruling that ordered the government to repatriate four Canadian men detained in northeastern Syrian prisons for presumed ISIS members.

In its notice to the Federal Court of Appeal, Ottawa asked the court to stay the order pending the appeal.

The Canadian men — who have yet to face charges — remain imprisoned by Kurdish forces over alleged ties to ISIS — a recognized Islamic extremist group.

In his January ruling, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown said that the four men had a right to return to Canada under S. 6(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The section states that "every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada."

However, the feds argue that Brown erred in his decision, stating, "The court has effectively created a right to be returned."

Brown also cited poor prison conditions and the absence of a trial and charges for permitting their repatriation.

"The conditions of the ... men are even direr than those of the women and children Canada has just agreed to repatriate," reads the ruling. "These individuals live in crowded and unsanitary conditions. They are held without charge or trial and lack adequate food and medical attention."

Brown noted that no one had heard from the men since 2019, but signs pointed to their worsening circumstances.

"While women and children live in tents, at least some men and perhaps many are held in small rooms or cells that are overcrowded and unsanitary," he said.

The federal government's appeal noted that the situation in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) — the Kurdish-controlled region which administers the prisons — is "dangerous to all concerned." They described the area as "violent, variable and far from assured or constant."

Brown also directed Ottawa to provide the four Canadian males with passports or emergency travel documents to ensure their safe return to Canada — with the aid of a federal government representative.

Ottawa previously made a deal to repatriate 19 women and children from the same detention camps in northeastern Syria. That deal remains unaffected by the recent appeal.

Among the men returning to Canada is Jack Letts, whose parents have publicly pushed the feds to help their son, who remained imprisoned in Syria for over four years. They claim their son stood against ISIL and that there is no evidence he fought for the extremist group overseas.

However, Letts admitted to joining ISIS in Syria, which he called "[the stupidest thing he's ever done," But his family claimed their son made that admission under duress and that ISIS imprisoned him thrice three since 2014.

"This appeal is a cruel delay tactic based on clearly frivolous arguments that were soundly dismissed in the original court decision," said Sally Lane, mother to Jack Letts.

"Canada is just prolonging my son's torture and that of the other male detainees and once again [is] showing itself to act just like the rogue states it condemns when they violate international law."

"For the Canadian government to argue that it is too difficult to repatriate my son when Canada is in the same region repatriating the women and children defies logic and every human rights commitment this country has ever made," she added.

Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon represents the other three men, whose identities and circumstances have not been released to the public. He expressed disappointment with the appeal but admittedly said it was no surprise.

"I look forward to defending a courageous, compelling and comprehensive judgment," said Greenspon.

Canada is one of several Western countries to face criticism over its failure to repatriate nationals among thousands of detainees held in camps and prisons since the collapse of ISIL in 2017.Approximately 10,000 men and hundreds of adolescent boys are held in 14 overcrowded prisons in Syria's northeastern Hasakah region. Women and children live in two camps, al-Roj and al-Hol, home to around 60,000 people, including about 20,000 from Syria, 31,000 from Iraq, and up to 12,000 people from other countries, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children.

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