A Canadian humanitarian mission including a senator will travel to northeastern Syria in hopes of visiting Canadians trapped in Kurdish detention camps — but Ottawa will not allow them to repatriate the detainees.
Senator Kim Pate, former Canadian diplomat Scott Heatherington and former secretary of Amnesty International Canada
General Alex Neve will travel to Syria in late August to inspect Kurdish prisons in the region and speak with detained Canadians to assess their health and well-being.
The mission members originally wanted to go to Syria in late May to lead a delegation aimed at repatriating the Canadians – they said Global Affairs Canada (GAC) rejected the proposal. The humanitarian mission hopes to leave for Syria by the end of August and the member says they are still open to the government designating her as a repatriation delegation before then.
Ottawa has not repatriated four Canadian men detained in Syria by the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The men have not been charged with a crime.
One of the detained Canadians is Jack Letts, who traveled to the Middle East in 2014. Letts was born in Oxford, UK, but the British government revoked his citizenship in 2019. Letts holds Canadian citizenship through his father.
Sally Lane, Letts’ mother, has insisted that her son did not join ISIS during his time in the Middle East.
In a letter to Lane from GAC director general of consular operations Victoria Fuller, obtained by Breaking:, Fuller said the Canadian government has not received confirmation from Kurdish authorities that Letts is alive.
“Given that anyone entering the country faces a high-risk environment, the Government of Canada continues to advise against all travel to Syria and therefore does not approve non-governmental travel to Syria,” Fuller wrote in the letter.
“As has been the case with past repatriations, any travel required to support future repatriation efforts will be limited to Canadian government officials.”
But the government’s lack of repatriation efforts has drawn criticism from human rights groups, the Kurdish authorities and others.
“I am a member of the chamber of sober second thoughts,” Pate told a news conference Thursday.
“Unfortunately, it appears there is very little level-headed second thought about the policies that shape our government’s response to the plight of Canadians detained and abandoned in northeastern Syria.”
Pate expressed concern about conditions in the camps, saying she had heard reports of malnourished children eating sand and prisoners languishing in sunless, cramped dungeons.
But Pate, who has worked on issues related to Canada’s penal system for nearly four decades, said she is confident the group can make progress on repatriation.
“In my years of negotiating in prisons in Canada and with correctional bureaucrats, I have often run into very high and seemingly impenetrable walls,” she said.
“But it has always been clear to me that no situation is unsolvable.”
Earlier this year, the federal government repatriated 14 women and children from the detention camps. The RCMP arrested three women upon their arrival in Canada; they were later released on peace bonds. Two more women and three children were supposed to be on the repatriation flight, but missed it. The woman’s lawyer said GAC told him that Kurdish authorities still intend to help Canadian repatriation efforts.
Lane wondered why the government was able to repatriate the women and children, but not Letts and the other men.
“Global Affairs has indeed created obstacle after obstacle for families trying to rescue their children from inhumane prisons and camps,” Lane told the news conference.
“It happened for Canadian women, and as it stands, Canadian women are receiving the justice my son is being denied.”
WATCH | Mother of Canadian detained in Syria asks why her son was not brought home
Lane said she was willing to travel on the future repatriation mission in May, but will not be joining the others on the humanitarian mission.
“I think it would be too hard for me to travel there on a diplomatic mission, knowing that Jack isn’t coming back with me, and I think it would destroy him too,” said Lane.
Neve called the conditions of the detainees a “complete human rights and security crisis”.
“We are open to the Canadian government’s mandate to be their designated representative in those discussions,” Neve said.
“A wide range of human rights are at stake because of this current policy of leaving men, women and children to languish in camps. Uncharged, untried, endured very difficult camps and conditions.”
He added that the group has scheduled talks with AANES to discuss access to the camps and detainees, but did not say when the meeting will take place.
I have never called on the government to charge the detainees with crimes when there is evidence.
In a statement, Global Affairs Canada did not answer questions from CBC about the condition of the four men, nor did it say whether the government will designate the group as a delegation so it can try to repatriate them.
“The safety and security of Canadians, both at home and abroad, is our highest priority. Amid reports of deteriorating conditions in camps in northeastern Syria, we are particularly concerned about the health and well-being of Canadian children” said GAC spokesman Jean-Pierre J. Godbout in an email.
“The Government of Canada continues to advise against all travel to Syria. Due to privacy concerns, we are unable to comment on specific cases.”
The case can go to the Supreme Court
A Federal Court ruling in January ordered the government to repatriate the four men, but a Federal Court of Appeals decision in May reversed this.
“The right to enter, stay and leave Canada is not a golden ticket for Canadian citizens abroad to force their government to take steps – even risky, dangerous steps – so that they can escape the consequences of their actions,” the appeals court ruling said. is reading.
At the press conference, Lane said a request for leave to appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).
“We are asking for a speedy hearing given the urgency of this and the fact that human lives are at risk,” Lane said.
Neve said he hopes the SCC will rule in their favor.
“We have a strong moral foundation, but we also believe we have a strong legal foundation, and that ground is international human rights,” he said.
Yazidi groups in Canada have criticized Canada’s repatriation of suspected ISIS members. ISIS attempted to wipe out the Kurdish-speaking Iraqi minority in 2014.
‘I know he’s alive’
In an interview with CBC Thursday, Lane said her son traveled to Syria as a naive 18-year-old. Lane said Letts wanted to support the Arab Spring in Syria in opposition to Bashar Al-Assad’s government, and that Kurdish forces captured Letts when he was on the run from ISIS.
She called on the Canadian government to turn the humanitarian mission into a repatriation delegation before departure.
“There are days when I think, is this going to take 20 years? Will Jack be 47 the next time I see him?” Lane said.
“I’ve been powerless for so long, and now I’ve actually got a group of people together to help me break this impasse.”
She said the last message she received from her son urged her not to give up hope.
“I feel in my heart that I know he’s alive, and that’s all I can take,” said Lane.
“It must end in repatriation. It can’t end any other way.’