Should Canada repatriate our citizens who joined IS? Nope

In the wake of the Omar Khadr $10.5 million payout furour another potential point of divisiveness among Canadians has hit the proverbial fan.  There are reports coming out of Iraq, yet to be confirmed, that two Canadian women have been captured in the rubble that is now Mosul and that they had been part of Islamic State (IS).  This may turn out to be false news: in any event, how do the Iraqis know they are Canadian?  Did they have Canadian passports or did they just say ‘sorry’ a lot (sorry for that stereotypical Canadian remark!)?

But if it turns out that they are indeed Canadian, then what?  Do we demand that they be returned to Canada?  Do we try to ‘deradicalise’ them?  Do we leave them to their fate with Iraqi forces knowing full well that there are already reports that some soldiers are killing IS terrorists?  What does the Canadian government, and by extension Canada, owe these women?

Not a damn thing.

Before you jump all over me and call me an insensitive Neanderthal, hear me out.  First and foremost, do we even have an extradition arrangement with Iraq?  If so, does Iraq want to prosecute these women itself?  Did they break Iraqi law (I am going out on a limb here and say that joining a terrorist group like IS is against Iraqi law – anyone keen to argue with me on that front?)?  Should they suffer whatever justice Iraq metes out?

This case is very different than that of Mr. Khadr, and even there 71% of Canadians are livid with the Trudeau government settlement (count me among the majority).  While we do not have any details to go on so far, based on my experience at CSIS I can paint a typical ‘portrait’ of these women in IS:

  • they are 99% most likely NOT to be ‘child soldiers’ (neither was Mr. Khadr but I have already made that point elsewhere)
  • they were most likely radicalised here in Canada
  • they were not coerced, ‘brainwashed’, cajoled or duped to leave our land to join IS.  They made that decision willingly and knowingly.
  • they could not possibly not have known that IS is a heinous, barbaric terrorist group
  • while they may not have planted IEDs, thrown a gay off a building, held down a Yazidi girl as she was being raped, put a bullet in the back of a Kurdish soldier’s head, or cheered at a beheading, they consciously left Canada to join a terrorist group, thus committing a criminal offence
  • they are, by definition, terrorists

Women join IS for all kinds of reasons ranging from doe-eyed naivete to hard-core belief  in that group’s ideology.  None of this matters.  They should be charged and they should be tried.  Can we do that here?  Perhaps?  But why should we?

Furthermore, some groups may ask that they be returned so that they can be ‘deradicalised’.  While I admire this sentiment I also know that there is little hard evidence that shows that deradicalisation works.  Do we want to re-admit citizens that in a worst case scenario could plot an attack in our country and in a best case scenario remain heavily radicalised and spread their toxic poison to others?  I, for one, think not.

Perhaps an analogy might help. When you fly to SE Asia it is impossible not to notice signs that say should you deal in drugs the penalty is death.  Do we extradite Canadians smuggling cocaine to Singapore (maybe we do)?  What about Canadians caught having sex with minors in Thailand?  If not, then why the hell would we bring back jihadis caught abroad?

Spare me the ‘but they are just poor Canadians who made bad choices or who came from dysfunctional families’ bit.  Our jails are full of rapists, murderers and child abusers who were born on the wrong side of the tracks.  We don’t let them out scot-free, do we?

No, these people are guilty at a minimum of making stupid choices in seeing IS as a viable entity and at a maximum of being active willing participants in terrorist activities.  Stupid choices often have dire consequences and I imagine that joining a terrorist group falls in that category.

So, sorry, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for these women, whether or not they are Canadian. Now, if there are kids involved, that is another story. And the topic for another blog.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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