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Lawyer files suit on behalf of 26 Canadians stuck in Syrian camps

A lawyer suing the federal government to force it to bring 26 Canadians with ISIS ties back home from Syrian refugee camps says time is of the essence to bring them back home to Canada.

Last month, a proceeding was filed on behalf of 11 families alleging that the federal government has neglected to uphold parts of the Federal Court Act, the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, when it comes to the government’s efforts in repatriating their loved ones.

“It’s basically an effort to require Global Affairs Canada to do what they should be doing, which is bring our Canadians home,” Lawrence Greenspon, a criminal defence lawyer who filed the suit, told CTV News.

“There’s absolutely no reason why these Canadians can’t be brought home to their loved ones here in Canada.”

In all, the application lists 26 Canadians — 14 children, eight women and four men — who are being held in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj prison camps and the Hasakah, Qamishli and Derik prisons in regions across north-eastern Syria.

The application also describes the conditions in the camps as “horrific” with “non-existent hygiene measures” and a “lack of clean water.”

“The conditions in the camps, and certainly in the prisons, are such that everyday matters and we would hope to get this on as quickly as possible,” Greenspon said.

Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE), said there are more than just the 26 Canadians in this application who are stuck in Syria.

“We still have approximately 40 people, not all of them are with our organization, but this court case will benefit them,” she told CTV News. “We have over 25 children and each one of those children is a Canadian citizen.”

Greenspon hopes the suit will force the Canadian government to issue passports to these detainees, officially request repatriation and appoint someone to oversee the detainees’ handover.

Global Affairs Canada did not provide a statement by publishing time, but issued a statement last month about the same case and said at the time that the government is “aware of Canadians citizens being detained in Northeastern Syria and is particularly concerned with cases of Canadian children in the region.”

The statement also notes that the situation in the area has made limited the government’s ability to provide consular services to Canadians.

Global Affairs had declined to comment further, citing the Privacy Act and that it was a matter before the courts.

OTHERS CASES SHOW IT CAN BE DONE

Greenspon filed a similar motion last year on behalf of Amira, a five-year-old orphan who was stuck at the Al-Hol camp. He said after filing the documentation, Amira was quickly brought to Canada to live with her uncle and grandparents.

Since Amira’s case, another Canadian child trapped in Syria has been brought home as well, Greenspon added.

In the past, Global Affairs has cited the instability of the region and a lack of consular services in Syria for the inaction on bringing these Canadians home, but Greenspon argues the cases of Amira and the other child show that it can be done.

“There was no incident,” he said. “It wasn’t a matter of security and the fact we don’t have consular relations was not an obstacle.

We were able to do that for Amira, so the real question is why we can’t do it for the other 26 Canadians that are over there and in very, very harsh conditions?”

Bain reiterated that any notion of it being too difficult for government officials to enter into Syria is simply not true.

“The government continues to act as if there’s absolutely nothing they can do for this people, (that) it’s impossible to get into northeast Syria, which is nonsense,” she said.

Other countries, such as France and Germany, have brought back several detainees, including children.

LOVED ONES PLEAD FOR HELP

Among those named in the application is Kimberly Polman, who married an ISIS fighter and moved to Syria in 2015. She had planned to use her nursing skills to help the women and children in the region, but quickly regretted the move.

When Polman tried to leave, she was imprisoned and is now in a camp and on a hunger strike.

“It’s the worst form of torture being kept, not only in these conditions, but kept indefinitely,” said Polman’s sister, who is not being named for safety reasons.

“She doesn’t have a trial date. She doesn’t have any charges against her.”

Polman’s sister said that Canadians don’t have to like what her loved one has done, but her sister is a Canadian citizen and should have the same rights as everyone else.

Bain said anyone returning to Canada would likely significant medical treatment, mental health counselling, educational training and in some cases will need help “pulling away from extremism.”

“We want to bring these kids home and repair what’s been done, and that’s what we’re working towards,” she said. “All of the children under six years old bear no responsibility for joining such a group.”

Greenspon said there is no timeline for when these Canadians might be returned, but is hopeful that this can be resolved within “weeks.”

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