Federal government working to repatriate group of women and children from Kurdish-controlled camps
An Ottawa lawyer says he's now asked the federal government to take urgent steps to repatriate a Quebec mother along with her six children who are detained in a camp in northeastern Syria holding people with suspected ISIS ties.
Lawrence Greenspon said he received a call directly from his client overnight and was informed she has made the decision to send her six children to Quebec on an upcoming repatriation flight organized by Canada, but said she wants to come with them.
Global Affairs Canada determined the six children are eligible to come to Canada, but the mother cannot join them on the flight because Canada hasn't finished her security assessment, said Greenspon.
"This is incredible, by that I mean not believable, when you consider that she was advised in writing more than four months ago, namely on Nov. 24, 2022, that she and her six children were eligible for assessment," said Greenspon in an email to CBC News.
The federal government is working behind the scenes to fly a group of women and children from Syrian camps controlled by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the war-torn region from ISIS. The women held there are believed to be married to ISIS fighters or have their own ties to ISIS, but have not faced any charges. Greenspon said they are arbitrarily detained.
The repatriation efforts underway are part of a last-minute deal that Global Affairs struck in January, a day before a federal court judge issued his decision ordering the government to repatriate Canadians.
The government has argued in court that it advised against Canadians travelling to ISIS-controlled Syria and has no obligation to risk sending officials to the region to repatriate them now that they're detained in camps and prisons for suspected ISIS fighters and their families.
RCMP on the ground
The RCMP were at al-Roj camp last week asking to conduct on-camera interviews with some Canadian women detained, which Greenspon said was a "good sign" that tells him the government "is doing their best to live up to the terms of the agreement."
But he said separating the Quebec mother from her children is unacceptable.
"To separate a mother from her children is contrary to every international children's rights convention to which Canada is a signatory."
Greenspon said the move is also against Global Affairs' own policy created in January 2021 that says "thou shall not separate parent from child," he said
UN experts urge countries to repatriate children with mothers
UN experts recently called on countries to urgently repatriate children from northeast Syria with their mothers, saying "children in conflict zones must be protected, not punished."
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued the urgent statement on March 31.
"States must urgently repatriate children, together with their mothers — a solution that we now know is eminently feasible. We note that it is of the utmost importance that comprehensive rehabilitation programmes are in place when children are repatriated," the UN statement said.
WATCH | Ottawa to repatriate 19 women and children held in Syria, lawyer says:
Ottawa to repatriate 19 women and children held in Syria, lawyer says
The federal government has agreed to repatriate 19 Canadian women and children held in Syrian detention camps for suspected ISIS members and their families.
The Quebec woman is not part of the deal struck with the federal government. In total, 26 women and children received letters last fall telling them they were eligible for assessment.
A group of Canadian immigration lawyers are also working on urging Canada to repatriate a group of four foreign mothers who have Canadian children detained in the camps.
Some children have urgent medical needs
Toronto immigration lawyer Asiya Hirji represents two of the foreign mothers that both have three children, including some with serious medical needs that she said require immediate attention.
One of their children has an eye issue that requires urgent surgery and if left untreated could go blind, said Hirji. Another foreign mother has a nine-year-old with autism and who also has a cerebral issue that is fatal and requires urgent surgery, she said.
Hirji said she has not yet informed Global Affairs Canada if the two foreign mothers she represents plan to send their six children in total to Canada. She said the children would go into foster care because they don't have family in Canada able to support them due to their age and other circumstances.
"I have a letter from an organization that works with autistic children that said the mom and child being separated would be catastrophic for the child's well-being," said Hirji.
CBC News requested a comment from Global Affairs on Tuesday evening about the Quebec mother and her six children and has not yet received a response.
The federal government has appealed Federal Court Justice Henry Brown's decision in January that ruled the four men detained in Kurdish prisons were entitled to have the federal government make a formal request for their release "as soon as reasonably possible."
Government lawyers told a Toronto court that the Federal Court made errors in its ruling and misinterpreted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it directed officials to "take extraordinary measures" to secure the release of the men.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She won the prestigious Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. Her beats include transport, defence and federal government accountability. You can reach her confidentially by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/
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