On Jan. 20, 2023, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the federal government has an obligation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that its citizens detained in northeast Syria are able to return to Canada. In response, the ICLMG sent the following letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly.
Jan. 26, 2023
The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa ON K1A 0G2
Sent by email: Melanie.Joly@international.gc.ca
In an historic January 20, 2023, ruling, the Federal Court of Canada called on your government to repatriate four Canadian men illegally and arbitrarily detained in northeast Syria, in addition to your recent commitment to repatriate 19 Canadian women and children (who were originally part of the same lawsuit). This ruling makes it clear that it is time to immediately bring all Canadians detained in northeast Syria home.
Your government has been asked to act within 90 days of a court decision, and it is imperative that this repatriation occurs without delay.
Justice Henry Brown of the Federal Court stated in December 2022: “Canadians are dying or at risk of dying every day.” Every moment of your delay increases the risk for the children, men and women detained in Syria.
Canada has already repatriated seven of its adult female and child citizens from the region. It has the necessary contacts on the ground in northeast Syria. It has the support of the US government, which continues to have forces on the ground. Most importantly, it has the consent and clear request of Kurdish authorities who hold the Canadians.
Justice Brown clearly stated that the protections provided under section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom – guaranteeing all Canadians the right to enter, remain in, and exit Canada – means that your government must act to repatriate its citizens, and that doing so is consistent with binding jurisprudence and Canada’s international obligations. These Charter rights apply not just to those represented in this court case, but to all Canadians detained in northeast Syria, making it clear that they too must be repatriated.
This should also include the non-Canadian mothers of Canadian children, since you have committed to not separate children from parents.
We are disappointed that the Canadian government has repeatedly used unsubstantiated “national security” concerns to justify its failure to assist these Canadians in coming home. As Justice Brown wrote, “the [government] Respondents do not allege any of the Applicants [detainees] engaged in or assisted in terrorist activities. The Respondents affirmed this position at the hearing.” He also stated there was no evidence before the court that any detainee had committed offenses contrary to Canadian law. Our organization has seen, time and again over the past two decades, how such unsupported allegations of ties to terrorism allow for the grave violation of the rights of Canadians abroad. It is also no coincidence that all these cases have involved Muslim Canadians. Your government has committed to fighting Islamophobia and discrimination in all its forms. Repatriating these Canadians and clearly stating that all Canadians are innocent until proven guilty would be one more step in that direction.
Finally, Justice Brown writes in his decision: “There is no known offense in Canada that carries with it exile or banishment as a penal consequence,” yet both by Canadian actions and conscious inaction, exile and banishment have been the result for Canadians abandoned in northeast Syria.
For too long, your government has frustrated and denied the rights of these Canadians. The Court has called on you to bring these Canadians home. We expect you to do so without delay.
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
cc: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety
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