I’d hazard a guess that if you asked most people what should be done with Canadian Islamic State jihadis detained abroad, they’d say leave them where they are and throw away the key.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may believe that former IS fighters can return home, reintegrate and be a positive force to help deradicalize others, I suspect most Canadians don’t buy it.
It is certainly possible with the defeat of the caliphate that some jihadis may be disillusioned and want to ensure no one else gets caught up in the fight.
But more likely, if someone born in Canada left here to take up arms against us to fight to establish a global caliphate and live under sharia law, it’s far more likely that they are going to remain radicalized and an ongoing threat to Canadian society, and should remain behind bars.
Now we are in a bind. If they are detained in a foreign prison and mistreated, we may be held liable for a violation of their Charter rights like Omar Khadr. Canadians will have no stomach for any more multi-million dollar compensation payouts.
Also, foreign authorities that are holding jihadis want their home countries to take them back. The wives and children of jihadis want to return to Canada, too. In his new paper for the Macdonald Laurier Institute, “It’s Time for an Effective Strategy to Deal with Canadian ‘Jihadis’ Detained Abroad,” Simon Fraser University criminology professor Scott Newark says every case needs to be approached individually, but Canada needs to act.
Listen: Danielle Smith speaks with Scott Newark about Canadian Islamic State jihadis
I asked Newark whether there was an option for jihadis not to return at all. If they desire to live in an authoritarian Islamic state under sharia law, there are lots of countries to choose from. Why not help them resettle in Iran? Or Saudi Arabia?
To my surprise, Newark said that might be an option. Islamic law discourages adherents of the faith from living in non-Muslim countries because it is too hard to practise their religion faithfully and avoid Western temptations. Newark said we could work with the International Islamic Council to resettle them in a country more to their liking. That’s the option I’d vote for.
Alternatively, I asked what happens if we do nothing? Newark said it’s likely that they will eventually be released and will make their way back to Canada anyway. If they pose a threat, there’d be little we could do about it then.
He says Canada should dispatch a special unit of the RCMP to the Kurdish controlled territory where they are being held to conduct interviews, gather evidence and help build the case for local prosecution. Then, once their sentence has been determined, they can be transferred back to serve their time in a Canadian prison. It may not be the outcome that satisfies most Canadians, but it is better than nothing.
The main point is Canadian authorities should do something now, while they still can.
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