Federal government considering aid for 19 Canadians in Syria
Families criticize the government for its inaction on the repatriation of Canadians from Syria.
The federal government says it plans to help secure the release of 19 Canadian women and children detained in northeastern Syria, according to a recently filed court document.
The decision comes just before advocates for 6 women and 13 children prepare to argue in Federal Court that the Liberal government's long-standing refusal to repatriate them – and several Canadian men – amounts to a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In a document recently filed in the court case, the government says Global Affairs Canada has determined that 19 Canadians have met a threshold under its policy framework to provide extraordinary assistance.
As a result, Global Affairs has begun assessments, in line with the framework's guiding principles, to determine whether to provide this assistance, the joint statement from the facts, dated 1 December.
A handful of women and children have returned to Canada in recent years, but Canada has, for the most part, not followed the path of other countries that have successfully repatriated citizens .
These Canadian citizens are among many foreign nationals in Syrian camps run by Kurdish forces, who have retaken the war-torn region from the Islamic State of ;Iraq and the Levant.
Last July, a total of 26 Canadians were part of the lawsuit against the government that will be argued in Federal Court next week.
The agreed statement of facts indicates that a woman and two children included in the case are no longer detained in any of the camps in the northeast of Syria, and their current fate is unknown.
In addition to the 19 women and children who may receive government assistance, a few Canadian men remain in the camps, including Jack Letts, whose parents have led a public campaign for the federal government to assist him.
Jack Letts, a British Canadian detained in a Kurdish prison in Syria begs Ottawa to repatriate him .
One of the women in the case, Kimberly Polman, was repatriated to Canada in October. The others part of the lawsuit are not named.
Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer for all the plaintiffs except Mr. Letts, said in an interview on Friday that the government's plans to help the other 19 Canadian women and children implicated in the court case and still detained in Syria is potentially very good news.
Mr. Greenspon was asked to provide comments and additional documentation in relation to Global Affairs' assessment of these cases.
However, court proceedings are still scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Ottawa.
In a court filing, families of detained Canadians argue that the process by which the government determined whether or not to repatriate its citizens is a violation of procedural fairness.
It says no claimants were made aware of the federal policy framework put in place to determine whether to extend assistance until November 2021, about 10 months after it began. implemented and approximately two months after the start of the legal action.
Kimberly Polman was repatriated to Canada in October.
The fact that the policy framework was not provided to claimants, at best, demonstrates a lack of information sufficient to know the case to be defended.
They also argue that the Canadian government's inaction in repatriating its citizens violates the Charter.
In its submission to the court, the federal government says Canada has provided assistance with consular services to the extent possible, adding that it does not; there is no legal obligation under the Charter, statute or international law for Canada to provide such assistance, including the repatriation of its citizens.
Federal lawyers say the obligations the plaintiffs seek to impose conflict with the policy reasons that justify a narrow approach to the application of the Charter to the x27;outside Canada.