Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says Canada will not follow the United States’ call to immediately repatriate foreign fighters currently held in detention in Syria.
Mr. Goodale said Tuesday that Canada has heard the suggestion from the United States and that the Liberal government is considering the best way forward to ensure the country and its national security are protected.
“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 our consular officials at risk,” Mr. Goodale told reporters on Parliament Hill.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department said the United States was calling on other nations to “repatriate and prosecute” their citizens detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that despite the liberation of Islamic State-held territory in Iraq and Syria, the group remains a significant threat and collective action is needed to address “this shared international security challenge.”
Mr. Goodale said Canada’s share of that problem is small, though, certainly smaller than most countries involved.
In a speech in Saskatchewan recently, Mr. Goodale said that about 190 of the 250 people who left Canada to fight in foreign conflicts are still abroad, with many of them likely dead. Some who are alive, he acknowledged, have spouses and children. The remaining 60 have returned to Canada, but only a small number of that figure travelled to Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and most have travelled elsewhere.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a Western foreign-fighter expert and senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said other countries are starting to move on this issue because once the United States pulls its military from the region, the situation on the ground will become more chaotic.
In December, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that after “historic victories” against the Islamic State, it was time to withdraw U.S. troops.
Mr. Amarasingam said it’s not safe from a national security standpoint to have hundreds of jihadists in an uncertain and ever-changing landscape in the north-east of Syria.
“I think Canada should join its allies in bringing these individuals back home," he said.
When asked about children born in Syria to parents who have been accused of fighting with the Islamic State, Mr. Goodale said the parents need to shoulder the responsibility. But he did say the government will carefully examine what can be done to protect the “innocent” in these circumstances. Mr. Goodale said Canada is considering, with its allies, about what’s doable regarding the children and the immediate answer is “don’t simply leap forward.”
On the request from the United States, Mr. Goodale reiterated the difficulty of collecting evidence that can be available and usable in a Canadian court. “That’s difficult, as you can imagine, when most of that evidence comes from a battlefield in a dysfunctional part of the world, half a world away.”
This is an issue Canada and its allies have discussed within both the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, and the Group of Seven, for quite some time, Mr. Goodale said, adding that Canada’s allies are faced with the same problem of collecting usable evidence.