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Canadian women captured during the defeat of ISIS are on their way home after the federal government agreed to bring them back from Syria.
“I’m told they are moving,” Lawrence Greenspun, the Ottawa lawyer who represents their families, said Wednesday.
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Three of the women detained in Syria are former Edmonton residents, while the other three lived in the Toronto area before leaving for Canada.
But it was unclear whether all six women made it out, and Greenspan said he did not know what would happen when they arrived.
RCMP would not say whether the women would face arrest for allegedly participating in the so-called Islamic State.
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Police also would not say whether the women would be held on anti-terrorism peace bonds to protect the public, or whether the children returning with them would be held.
“Working closely with Public Prosecutions Service Canada, the RCMP will lay criminal charges when there is supporting evidence and when it is deemed in the public interest to proceed,” said Cpl. Kim Chamberland.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said only that it would “use all legal remedies at its disposal to reduce any risk posed by individuals returning to Canada.”
Six women left Canada and were held captive by US-backed Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria in the years leading up to their elimination by ISIS in 2019.
The Canadian government initially refused to help repatriate them, but in December authorities agreed to do so after their families appealed to federal court.
Greenspan said a seventh woman, who is from Quebec and has six children, was also in a Syrian detention camp but was not scheduled to return with the others because she was still undergoing a risk assessment.
A Vancouver woman, Rida Jabbar, was among those who initially tried to return, but she and her two children went missing last year and have not been found. “All I know is that we’ve lost communication with him,” Greenspan said.
Jabbar is the wife of Mississauga, Ontario extremist Muhammad Ali, who joined ISIS in 2014 and called for attacks in Canada. He has been detained by Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Asiya Hirji, a Toronto lawyer who represents two other women detained in Syria, also said she learned from her clients that the Canadians had been moved out of their camp. Hirji’s clients are not Canadian and are not among the returnees, although six of his children have Canadian citizenship through their father.
Canadian law prohibits participation in terrorism, but authorities have struggled with such cases because of the challenges of collecting evidence from foreign war zones.
Instead national security agencies have relied on other means for “Canadian extremist travelers”, notably peace bonds, surveillance, no-fly lists and passport denials.
The terrorism peace bond enforces a list of conditions that suspects must comply with or face arrest, such as wearing an ankle bracelet and participating in a de-radicalization program.
In Edmonton, the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV) said it was available to support women returning to the city, as well as their families.
Funded by the federal government and the City of Edmonton, OPV runs an intervention program launched in 2019 that helps extremists break free of hatred and violence.
OPV research director Michael King said, “Primarily what we do is just try and structure the person’s life as a way of building trust so that they feel comfortable discussing ideology with us. “
She noted that some Canadian women were at a vulnerable age when they left for Syria and Iraq and had already abandoned militancy as a result of their experiences.
“We know that some of them are completely alienated from ISIS ideology. They’re dealing with it so much, they don’t want to have anything to do with it,” King said.
Rules surrounding confidentiality prevented King from saying whether the organization was already working with any of the families preparing for the challenges of supporting the women and their children.
But he said the program was there, should he seek help, or should the courts order him to participate. “We are available to them, just as we are to anyone else who wants to be apart,” King said.
Among the frustrated people the government is helping women return are the Yazidis, an Iraqi minority group targeted by ISIS. In what has been recognized as a genocide, ISIS killed the Yazidi men and enslaved the women and girls.
The Canadian Yazidi Association said the government’s decision to deport women suspected of joining ISIS has left the community feeling “abandoned and unsupported”.
“This decision has undone years of progress towards healing and rebuilding the community in Canada,” said Jamileh Naso, president of the Winnipeg-based non-profit.
He said that while the government was helping to bring women with alleged ties to ISIS into Canada, the Yazidis were making little progress in persuading Ottawa to resettle their families.
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Women caught in Syria during fight against ISIS returning to Canada
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