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Lawyer challenges federal decision to deny help to woman with six children in Syria


A lawyer is urging the Federal Court to direct the Canadian government to repatriate a Quebec woman being held in a Syrian detention camp with her six children.

Lawrence Greenspon, a lawyer for the woman, says in a newly filed court application that Ottawa's refusal to help her return to Canada means indefinite detention overseas, which is "tantamount to exile."

The Canadian citizen, identified only as F.J. in the application, and her young children are among the many foreign nationals in Syrian camps run by Kurdish forces that took back the war-torn area from the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Global Affairs Canada told Greenspon on June 21 that the woman has "extremist ideological beliefs" that may lead her to act violently, and the government has no ability to prevent such conduct.

Greenspon dismisses the argument, saying the government could deal with the woman as needed through Canada's justice system.

The application notes the government has repatriated eight Canadian women from Syrian detention camps, seven of whom were subject to strict bail conditions pending federal applications for terrorist peace bonds.

"There is no evidence that any of those seven women have breached any of the conditions they have been subject to since their return."

Global Affairs said in writing late last November that F.J. and her children had met the criteria for federal consideration of assistance to Canadians detained in the region.

Although the government decided not to facilitate the woman's return, it offered repatriation assistance to her six children. As a result, she was left with the choice of sending the children on their own to Canada or keeping them with her in the squalid camp.

The newly filed court application says separating the mother and children would violate the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory. It would also breach the policy framework the government applied when denying the woman assistance, the application adds.

The framework reads: "Children will not be separated from their parents except pursuant to extraordinary circumstances."

Federal lawyers will have a chance to make arguments to the court in defence of the government's position.

A civil society delegation that recently visited Syrian prison camps has called on Ottawa to give immediate consular assistance to Canadian detainees and to swiftly repatriate all citizens wishing to return to Canada.

The four-person delegation met with officials and saw several Canadian men, women and children -- including the Quebec mother.

An advocacy group told The Canadian Press in June that the woman and a number of her children were treated at a clinic after a fire in their tent's kitchen area.

The mother is still recovering, said Alex Neve, a former Amnesty International Canada official who was part of the delegation to northeastern Syria.

"She did make it clear to us that she continues to suffer from so much pain and restriction on her mobility," he told a news conference last month.

"She's physically unable to lift her youngest child, and has to rely on her oldest daughter to be the one to do so."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.



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