When it comes to providing consular aide to Canadians detained for allegedly fighting with ISIS, the government warns those who went there knew the risks and consular officials will not be put at risk to try and get directly to them.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was asked about what the government is doing in response to requests reported by Global News over recent days from some of the 13 Canadians held by the Kurds in Syria on suspicion of having been associated with ISIS.
Of those individuals, three were male fighters while another three are women.
Seven are children.
“When people voluntarily leave Canada to go into a war zone and associate themselves in one way or another with a vicious terrorist organization, the consequences of that have to be clearly understood by them,” Goodale said.
“They made this decision to leave this country and to go somewhere else to become associated with a vile and heinous and atrocious terrorist organization. There are consequences that flow from that.”
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With ISIS largely displaced from the territory it once controlled, the question has shifted over the past year to what should be done with the hundreds of foreign fighters whom Kurdish officials have said they are eager to return to their countries of origin.
Until then, they remain detained in facilities in Syria.
But Western law enforcement agencies have struggled to lay charges against returning ISIS fighters.
That’s due to a combination of lack of evidence that can be used in court and a reluctance to lay a charge that officials are not sure could result in a conviction.
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In past cases, RCMP officers have travelled abroad to gather evidence and conduct investigations.
The prosecution of the kidnapper of Canadian writer Amanda Lindhout was one such example where RCMP tracked the man who kidnapped her in Africa before approaching and luring him to Canada in order to prosecute him.
When asked whether he would direct the RCMP to travel to Iraq and Syria, Goodale would not specify.
“There is a very strong international collaboration among our agencies and the agencies in the Five Eyes countries and the agencies in the G7 countries to work with each other to assemble evidence from the battlefield that will be usable in courts of law,” Goodale said. “We are not the only country with this challenge.”
He was also asked specifically what should be done with the children of the men and women who fought with or aided ISIS.
For example, should they be removed from the custody of their parents upon potential return to Canada?
Goodale characterized the question as “hypothetical.”
He then noted that the question over what kinds of services are or should be provided to foreign fighters and their families hangs on one core concern.
That is whether consular officials should be put at risk to try and reach them directly.
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“There are certain areas of the world that are particularly difficult and dangerous and where the provision of normal consular services are simply physically impossible and we would not want to put our consular officials in a position of endangering themselves,” he said.
“Global Affairs will deliver on their obligations to provide consular services but if you physically can’t get there to provide the services, you’ve got to recognize the dangers and the risks that are imposed upon consular officials and folks who work for the department.”
Global News asked specifically whether he thinks the people consular officials would be going to help are worth that risk.
His response was concise.
“As I said, we will not expose our consular officials to any undue risk.”