Canadian Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, said on Tuesday that Canada will not comply with the United States’ request for its allies fighting in Syria and Iraq to bring foreign fighters home for trial.
“We have heard the request, or the suggestion, from the United States, but at this point, the fact of the matter remains that is a dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world in which we have no diplomatic presence and we are not going to put our diplomatic officers or consular officials at risk,” he said.
Goodale says that although Canada will not put its diplomatic personnel at risk abroad, it is working with its allies to get evidence in order to convict Canadians who have gone abroad to fight for ISIS and since returned.
“The issue is in part working with our allies to make sure that we are collecting the maximum amount of useable evidence that can be practically available and useable in the justice system to lay charges, to prosecute,” he said.
There is a risk the fighters might escape or be executed before they can be prosecuted by their country of origin
According to the US, the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) have captured hundreds of foreign fighters from a host of Western nations.
In a statement released on Monday, the US Department of Defence said
“the United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin.”
The CBC reports that Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says that the Syrian forces will likely not be able to hold the fighters indefinitely, fearing that they might escape.
“Leaving hundreds of jihadist fighters — well-trained jihadist fighters — in a kind of weird limbo state, if the Americans do pull out, is not ideal from a national security point of view,” he told CBC.
He also said there is a risk that the SDF could make a deal with Syria’s autocrat, Bashar al-Assad, to turn the fighters and their children over to be executed.
Goodale says Canada will do everything it can to protect the innocent children of foreign fighters
Amarasingam has said after visiting camps where foreign fighters are being held that there are four Canadian men, three women, and seven children being held there. The children were all under the age of five.
Goodale called the actions of the parents “appalling and reprehensible,” and said that his office is looking into ways to protect the children who are “innocent in these circumstances.”
“But this is a situation that [ISIS] has created, and to which those who have gone to that part of the world to participate have also contributed, and they need to show to their responsibilities,” he said.
According to former CSIS analyst Jessica Davis, Canada has been reluctant to bring foreign fighters at home, but that it will be more difficult now to ignore the harsh reality in Syria.