The Federal Court has ordered the government to repatriate four Canadian men currently detained in northeastern Syria.
Canadians are among foreign nationals held in Syrian prisons on suspicion of being members of the Kurdish-run IS group that has recaptured the war-torn region from the extremist group.
Family members of the 23 detained Canadians — four men, six women and 13 children — have asked the court to order the government to arrange for their repatriation. They argued that refusing to do so would violate their charter rights.
The government agreed on Thursday to proceed with the repatriation of 19 Canadian women and children.
In the written decision, the judge cited the conditions of the prison and the fact that the men had not been charged and brought to trial.
“The conditions of … men are even more dire than the conditions of the women and children that Canada has just agreed to repatriate,” the decision read.
“There is no evidence that any of them have been tried or convicted, let alone tried in a manner recognized or sanctioned by international law.”
The judge also noted that the court was not required to rule on why the applicants had come to the area and that the government had not provided evidence that they engaged in terrorist activities. .
Lawrence Greenspon, the attorney for most of the applicants, said that if there is any evidence that Canadians are engaged in terrorist activities, Canada should bring them to trial here.
“These are Canadian citizens, they are being held illegally, arbitrarily in detention or prison, they are not being charged with anything,” Greenspon told CBC.
“It’s unlikely they’ll be charged with anything there. So let’s take them home.”
Jack Letts, who was imprisoned in Syria for more than four years after being accused of joining IS, was among the four men.
Letts admitted in a 2019 interview to joining ISIS in Syria. His family says he admitted it under duress and there is no evidence he ever fought for the group.
The former Anglo-Canadian citizen, born and raised in Oxford, UK, was stripped of his British citizenship three years ago, making the Canadian government his only viable means of escape .
Barbara Jackman, the attorney representing the Letts family, told CBC on Thursday that detaining them without trial is a violation of the human rights of those detained.
“This case is based on the human rights of people detained abroad and whether Canada, as a country, has an obligation to help them,” she said.
Former CSIS analyst Phil Gurski told CBC News Network on Thursday that he doubts any returning adults will face justice for any crimes they may have committed.
“The witness is not here, the evidence is not here,” he told host Natasha Fatah. “As a Canadian citizen, I feel outraged that people will ignore it.”
Gurski said it would also put more pressure on Canada’s intelligence agencies to monitor returning individuals.