Watch: At least one former soldier has travelled to Iraq to join Peshmerga fighters. As Mike Le Couteur reports, some civilians are so fired up about the horrors of ISIS they want to volunteer to fight.
A 26-year-old former soldier has left Canada to join Kurdish fighters on the front lines against ISIS. Dillon Hillier, a corporal who served in Afghanistan as a member of Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, told the National Post he “felt it was the right thing to do since they’re facing some pretty rough times.”
Global News could not reach Hillier for an interview, but confirmed he is the son of Carleton Place, Ont. MPP Randy Hillier.
“While we have limited contact with Dillon, we do know he is safe and sound,” the statement from Randy and Jane Hillier read.
Hillier told the National Post what he is doing is “no different than when thousands of Canadians went to fight the Germans in World War II.” The one difference is that “ISIS is far more barbaric,” he said.
But, Hillier is going independent of the Canadian Forces. He was working a construction job in Alberta before he left for Iraq last weekend, according to the National Post.
He’s joining up with the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces in Iraq with the help of another Canadian veteran named Ian Bradbury.
Bradbury is behind the 1st North American Expeditionary Force. He wants to give support to other fellow vets who want to lend their skills to the forces battling ISIS — the Peshmerga in Iraq and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.
He said former soldiers like himself and Hillier “acknowledge” the Canadian military is currently involved in the international coalition against ISIS, but he believes there are “political limitations” on what Canada can do to prevent further atrocities against civilians.
Canadian fighter jets are involved in U.S. led airstrikes against ISIS and the Canadian government committed up to 69 troops to train Kurdish forces in Iraq. The Canadian government has not committed to sending soldiers into combat on the ground.
“It’s the atrocities that are taking place. It’s beyond anything that we think is acceptable to be happening, right now in 2014,” Bradbury told Global News reporter Mike Le Couteur.
“We understood, a long time ago, that sometimes people need somebody to stand in front of them to defend against an aggressor.
Bradbury would not comment on when Hillier said he wanted to join the fight against ISIS, but he said there have been “a number of us that have been talking about this for the… past number of months.”
Bradbury said “he’s not in the position, himself” to go and take up arms against ISIS, so he’s providing what support he can to those who can and are willing to head to the battlefield on their own. But he insists his group is “not a recruiting agency.”
Hillier isn’t the first Canadian to join this fight. Earlier this month, B.C.-born Gill Rosenberg flew from Israel to Erbil, Iraq to meet up with the Peshmerga and travel to Syria to assist the YPG.
Rosenberg is a former member of the Israeli Defence Force, who joined up with the Peshmerga on her own accord.
The Canadian government has laws in place to prohibit Canadians from joining ISIS and other groups listed as terrorist entities. Public Safety Canada does not list the Peshmerga or the YPG as terror organization.
So, there’s nothing stopping people such as Dillon from taking the skills they learned in the military to assist in this battle — a battle Canada is supporting by launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and by training and providing support for the Peshmerga.
Public Safety Canada referred questions about Canadian fighters joining Kurdish forces to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs.
“We are aware of Canadian citizens having joined Kurdish forces,” said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Francois Lasalle. “Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) advises against all travel to Syria and Iraq, because of the extremely volatile security situation and Canada’s limited ability to provide assistance to its citizens there.”
The Canadian government has raised concern about the possibility of foreign fighters, who have joined the likes of ISIS, returning home with radical ideals and motivations — and possibly inciting or carrying out domestic attacks.
Is a foreign Peshmerga fighter different from a foreign ISIS fighter?
Dr. Wagdy Loza, a psychologist and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Queen’s University, sees a big difference between someone like Hillier and Canadians who join ISIS, which has killed thousands of civilians, raped and/or enslaved women and recruited child soldiers in both Iraq and Syria.
He sees what Hillier is doing as “honourable.”
Bradbury said he has “no way of ensuring” that someone like Hillier won’t run into issues with Canadian authorities when they return to Canada from the battlefields of Iraq or Syria, considering those who are suspected of joining up with ISIS can face prosecution. Although the Peshmerga and YPG are not listed as terrorist entities, they are affiliated with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Canadian government deems a terrorist organization.
“The best that I can do is ensure that our contacts are clean,” he said, adding he has “verified contacts” among the Peshmerga forces. He said all he can do is offer the best support he can.
“It was his individual choice to volunteer and leave,” he said.
Since Hillier left for Iraq and his decision to join Peshmerga fighters became public, Bradbury said he’s had several inquiries from others who wish to follow suit.
“Up until about now, we’re looking at about 50 or 60… that have expressed direct interest,” he said. So far Hillier, is the only individual the 1st North American Expeditionary Force has supported in actually travelling overseas.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had Dillon Hillier’s name spelled as “Hiller” in the headline. The headline has been updated. We regret the error.