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Families of ISIS detainees held in Syria take Canada to court over inaction

Click to play video: 'Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo'
Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo
Two years since the so-called Islamic State was defeated in Syria, thousands of ISIS foreign fighters, along with their wives and children, remain in legal limbo. – Jun 22, 2021

The families of more than two dozen Canadians held at prisons and camps for ISIS detainees in Syria have filed a case in the Federal Court accusing the government of failing to bring them home.

Eleven families, which were not identified by name, alleged Ottawa had failed “to take all reasonable steps” to repatriate Canadian detainees captured by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

“All applicant family members are detained arbitrarily and unlawfully,” they alleged in the court application, filed in Ottawa on Monday by lawyer Lawrence Greenspon.

The case was filed on behalf of 14 children, eight women and four men who are being held at the Al Hol and Roj camps, as well as prisons in Hasakah, Qamishli and Derik.

Global Affairs Canada declined to comment.

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While the detainees were not named, their ages match Canadians known to have been captured in Syria, notably Kimberly Polman, Mohamed Ali and Mohamed Khalifa.

A former Toronto IT worker, Khalifa has acknowledged he narrated ISIS execution videos, while Ali said he was a member of an ISIS sniper team. Polman, a B.C. resident, married an ISIS fighter.

But most of the Canadians are children between the ages of two and 14. The younger children were born in Syria to a Canadian parent, and have never been to Canada.

“The detained applicant family members are suffering a deprivation of liberty, and furthermore, this deprivation is unlawful,” the court application alleged.

“They have not been charged with any offences, have had no trial dates set, and are simply being detained indeterminately.

“The Canadian government has the ability to bring the unlawful detention to an end and secure release of the detained Canadians.”

Click to play video: 'Canada repatriates orphaned girl from ISIS camp in Syria'
Canada repatriates orphaned girl from ISIS camp in Syria

So far only one Canadian has been handed over to Canadian authorities — a five-year-old girl orphaned when her parents were killed in an airstrike.

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A former U.S. diplomat later secured the release of a second Canadian girl and her mother, who remains in Iraq.

The court case called the detention facilities “overcrowded and unsanitary,” and said the Canadians held there were at a heightened risk of COVID-19.

While Kurdish authorities have said they were willing to hand the Canadians over, the Liberal government has not done so, saying it was too risky to travel to the region.

But the court case said over 20 countries, including the U.S., France and Germany, had repatriated their citizens without incident.

Read more: ISIS supporter who attacked at Canadian Tire store denied parole

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Human Rights Watch said in a statement it was “deeply troubling that these detainees and their families in Canada would have to resort to taking their government to court to end this paralysis.”

Farida Deif, Canada Director at Human Rights Watch, said Polman was on a hunger strike and was suffering from serious medical problems, including hepatitis.

“Her life and the lives of more than forty other Canadians are on the line. Prime Minister Trudeau has the power to bring these Canadians home. He just needs to find the moral courage to do so.”

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Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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