- Judy Trinh
- CTV National News, Ottawa Correspondent
The Trudeau government is appealing a federal court order to repatriate four Canadian men imprisoned in northeast Syria.
The four men have been detained in prisons run by Kurdish authorities since at least 2019 but, last month, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ruled that the government’s decision to bring back Canadian women and children but exclude the men was unconstitutional.
No evidence of terrorist activity was presented by lawyers for Global Affairs during the so called BOLOH hearings, which stands for “Bring Our Loved Ones Home.” Government lawyers argued they were not under any obligation to repatriate citizens from Syria and provide any consular assistance because Canada had closed its embassy there in 2012.
- However, in its notice of appeal, the federal government outlined the grounds on which it will fight the ruling. The government says Justice Brown erred in his interpretation of section six of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the mobility rights of Canadians and permanent residents.
In court documents filed Friday, the government argues that Judge’s interpretation of the Canadians “right to enter” is “novel” and has been misconstrued as a “right to return.”
Among them is Jack Letts, who had dual British-Canadian citizenship. Letts was stripped of his British citizenship, after media in the United Kingdom reported he had joined the Islamic State. His mother, Sally Lane, contends that Letts made the admission under torture and duress.
Lane called the government’s decision to appeal “a cruel delay tactic based on frivolous arguments.”
In a statement provided to CTV News on Friday, Lane said: “For the Canadian government to argue that it is too difficult to repatriate my son, when Canada is in the exact same region repatriating the women and children defies logic, as well as every human rights commitment this country has ever made.”
The government intends to argue the four Canadian males, travelled to Syria after 2014 “of their own free will, and against the general travel advisory of the government” and are suspected of having “fought for or assisted those fighting for Daesh/ISIS.”
Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon represents the three Canadian men, other than Letts. He says Justice Brown’s 75-page decision will be a tough appeal for federal lawyers to win.
“(The decision) was very courageous, compelling and a comprehensive decision. And Justice Brown, in our view, covered all the bases and covered them well. This will be a difficult appeal for the government to pursue,” said Greenspon.
SOME WOMEN AND CHILDREN WITH CANADIAN TIES REMAIN IN LIMBO
The appeal concerning the Canadian men will not impact the repatriation of 26 Canadian women and children that Global Affairs had previously agreed to bring home. That process is underway, but the timeline is confidential, Greenspon said.
However the fate of another group of women and children remain in limbo. Greenspon says Global Affairs is forcing family separation on four foreign mothers and their 10 Canadian children.
Their Canadian fathers are missing, or may have died in Syria’s civil war. According to Global Affairs, the children qualify for repatriation but not their mother. The children were born overseas, and like their mothers have never set foot in Canada.
The non-Canadian women have been asked to relinquish their children, forcing them, Greenspon says to make a “Solomon-type” choice.
“Separating mothers from their children is, in my view, wrong. It’s not in keeping with (Canada’s) own policy framework, nor is it in keeping with international covenants that Canada has been a signatory to. You don’t separate children from their from their mothers.”
No date for the appeal hearing has yet been set.
Sally Lane, middle, Canadian mother of Jack Letts, stands on the steps of the Prime Minister’s office in Ottawa on May 19, 2022, with supporters to request an urgent meeting with the prime minister and foreign affairs minister.