'Happy outcome': B.C. man detained in Syria released
A 44-year-old British Columbia man who has been detained in Syria since last year has been released.
Kristian Lee Baxter, from Nanaimo, B.C., travelled to the war-torn country in November 2018 in search of adventure. His mother, Andrea Leclair, said her son communicated with her daily when he first arrived in the country on Nov. 26, but she stopped hearing from him a few days later on Dec. 1.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said they were “very relieved” Baxter had been released from Syria.
“Canadian consular officials have been actively engaged throughout this case and continue to provide consular services to Mr. Baxter and his family,” Guillaume Berube said in an email to CTV News on Friday.
“We would also like to express our appreciation to the Government of Lebanon for its assistance.”
The department said they wouldn’t provide any further details, citing the Privacy Act.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a press conference in Calgary Friday that she would not comment on case specifics as it was a consular matter, but that she was “relieved” that this case had a “happy outcome.” Freeland advised that “this is a case that should remind us all to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling to dangerous parts of the world.”
Freeland also thanked the Canadian diplomats who worked on the case and the Lebanese government.
Baxter appeared at a press conference with Lebanon’s General security chief, Abbas Ibrahim, in Beirut on Friday. The Canadian man broke down in tears as he thanked the Canadian embassy in Lebanon and the Lebanese government for helping to free him.
“I thought I’d be there forever, honestly. I didn’t know if anyone knew if I was alive,” he said, his voice cracking.
Emmanuelle Lamoureux, Canada’s ambassador to Lebanon, was also present during the press conference and thanked Ibrahim for Baxter’s release. She wouldn’t provide any other details about the case, however, due to Canadian privacy laws.
Ibrahim said Lebanese mediation helped to secure the release of Baxter. It’s the second time in recent months the country has intervened on the behalf of a foreign citizen. Last month, Lebanon helped mediate the release of American traveller, Sam Goodwin, who was detained in Syria for two months.
As for why Baxter was detained in the first place, Ibrahim would only say that he was held for “violating Syrian laws.”
In a statement released through a lawyer to CTV News on Friday, the family of Baxter said they “rejoiced” at the news of his release.
“I’m ecstatic that Kristian is on his way home,” said Andrea Leclair, from the family residence in Nanaimo B.C.
Rene and Collette Leclair, Baxter’s uncle and aunt who live outside of Winnipeg, told CTV News they were “elated” when they learned of the news of his release Friday morning. In a message, Rene said they prayed for his freedom during the long wait for updates. He also said that apparently his nephew is safe and hasn’t been mistreated.
Baxter’s mother told The Canadian Press in January that her son had visited a village in Syria near the border of Lebanon at the invitation of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law, who lives in the U.S. but visits the village regularly. She said his luggage was delayed at the airport in Beirut and a taxi driver offered to drive him to the village and fetch his belongings for him later.
When the driver didn’t return, Leclair said Baxter went to the border to find out what happened to his suitcase. She said the driver had been detained because authorities had found a metal detector, a prohibited item, in Baxter’s luggage.
“He loves to find things, he'll find silly things like bottle tops but they might be old bottle tops, that kind of thing. He never finds anything of any value,” she told The Canadian Press in January. “Kristian is a world traveller. He’s been all over the place. He’s an adventurer.”
Baxter told border officials the suitcase belonged to him and not the driver, Leclair said, but he was turned away. Leclair said her son returned again a few days later to try and help the detained driver, despite the brother-in-law advising him against it. She said she hadn’t heard from him since.
Leclair said Baxter was supposed to return to Canada on Dec. 13 and his travel visa to Syria had expired on Dec. 12 or 13.
It’s still unclear when Baxter will return home to Canada.
The Canadian government has warned travellers against visiting Syria after civil war broke out in the country in 2011. Like many other countries, Canada severed diplomatic ties with Damascus the following year in reaction to the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on protesters.
The drawn-out conflict has led to the proliferation of multiple warring factions, including the Islamic State terrorist group. The war has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 people and displaced half of the population.
With files from The Associated Press