Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale offered few details on what to do with followers of the so-called Islamic State and their family members who want to return to Canada following a report by Global News, revealing at least a dozen Canadians being held in northern Syria for suspected ties to ISIS.
“The first priority of the government of Canada is to collect the evidence and to make sure that where criminal charges can and should be laid, they are in fact laid,” Goodale said in Saskatchewan Tuesday.
Goodale said that over the last two to three years, four sets of charges have been laid against individuals who have travelled overseas to fight for terror groups like ISIS. The minister said two people have been charged and two more cases are currently before the courts.
“The challenge for security and police agencies is to collect evidence that will be usable in a court of law,” he said. “The issue is making sure the criminal code is assiduously applied in every case.”
The statements from the Public Safety Minister follow a report from Global News which confirmed a high-profile Canadian ISIS member was caught trying to flee Syria and return to Canada.
Muhammad Ali, 28, who left Toronto in 2014 to join ISIS, was captured by Kurdish forces near the Syrian-Turkish border. He is currently being held at a makeshift prison by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The former Ryerson University student, who went by Abu Turaab Al-Kanadi, said the only thing he wants to do is return to Canada.
“If you say it’s a big mistake, then you’re going to spend the rest of your life banging your head on the wall. I mean, I don’t know man, the only thing I care about now is my wife and my kids,” Ali told Global News in Syria. “I don’t even care about anything else. I don’t care about this country or these people here.”
Kurdish authorities have said they were holding almost 900 foreign ISIS fighters, as well as 500 wives and more than 1,000 children, and want governments to take back those that are their citizens.
“One of the biggest challenges of this new phenomenon — of people who have formerly been involved with terrorist activities — is when they left North America they may have been single but acquired families along the way,” Goodale told reporters. “The issue is identifying the circumstances of those families. And if they have been engaged in activity that is related to terrorism, they will face the full force of the law.”
Global News was able to confirm 13 Canadian citizens, including three ISIS fighters, are being held in northern Syria and want to return to Canada.
Their cases have placed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in a difficult position, as the RCMP have struggled to bring charges against Canadians who have taken part in overseas terror groups, there is no guarantee Ali would face arrest upon his return.
Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Self-Administration of North Syria, told Global News in an interview in Syria that the Canadian government broke off talks to repatriate the citizens.
“There was a dialogue with the Canadian government via the Canadian consulate in Beirut,” he said. “We had a meeting in Sulaymaniyah and there was some good steps and we filled application forms and then suddenly the Canadian government stopped this process and we don’t know why.”