The notion that Canadian volunteers fighting with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and Syria could face prosecution under the former Conservative government’s tough anti-terror laws has one human rights group calling for stricter supervision of the country’s military training mission in the war-torn region.
A secret “Canadian Eyes Only” analysis of the Kurdish peshmerga, prepared by Transport Canada’s intelligence branch, warns there are some factions of the militia group that are designated as terrorist entities under federal law.
“Any Canadians claiming to have links to organizations such as the People’s Worker Party (PKK) are likely to become the subject of Canada’s anti-terror legislation,” says the report to the department, one of many federal agencies with a security assessment branch.
The assessment comes to light following an Amnesty International report last week that accused peshmerga forces of bulldozing, burning and blowing up Arab villages in apparent retaliation for supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Canadian special forces are training Kurdish fighters, and the Trudeau government is preparing to significantly increase the size of that commitment – a mission that Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada says requires careful human-rights monitoring.
“I think the information the government has in front of it makes it clear there are serious concerns,” said Neve, who is proposing that diplomats investigate the records of Kurdish units that have been trained by Canadians and to monitor them going forward, in much the same manner as Afghan prisoners were monitored.
He said Canadians volunteering in the region should also be vetted.
The intelligence analysis, dated Nov. 28, 2014, and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, parse the various branches and factions of the peshmerga, which make up almost 60 per cent of Kurdish security forces in the region.
One of the factions is the People’s Worker Party, or PKK, which is designated as a terrorist entity under Canadian law. Turkey, a NATO ally, takes a particularly hard line on the PKK, and recently threatened to boycott United Nations-backed peace talks on Syria if a political group associated with the PKK was at the table.
It is unclear how many Canadians – if any – are fighting with the PKK, or another faction known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, but there have been several published reports since the war heated up in the summer of 2014.
The YPG, which came to international attention during the siege of Kobani, has not been deemed a terrorist group.
Last summer, Vice News reported that three Canadians, some of them veterans of the Afghan war, had joined militia units in a YPG-controlled region of Syria, where the PKK does most of its fighting. At least one admitted serving with a YPG unit of foreign nationals, the published report said.
Ian Bradbury, of the non-profit 1st North American Expeditionary Force, said overlapping territory and units make it possible that Canadians, even if they are not serving with the PKK, could be on the same battlefields or camps as the terrorist group.
Canadians returning home from those distant battlefields should be questioned about who they were with and where, he added.
“I don’t know of any Canadians fighting with questionable groups,” said Bradbury, whose organization offers stability, development and training for the Kurdish regional government.
“My hope is that we take a very close look at what people are doing over there and if they’ve done something atrocious, let’s hold them to task.”