What if Canadian ISIS terrorists want to come home?

In the wake of the recent storms that ravaged the eastern Caribbean and Florida a lot of Canadians were stranded in resorts and hotels and undoubtedly were suffering under horrible conditions, life-threatening ones even.  Many savaged the Canadian government and Canadian airlines for not acting more quickly to get them home and out of harm’s way.  The fault was probably not entirely with the government and airlines but we got to read and hear their angry stories anyway.

I am pretty sure that we would agree that when situations of this nature – hurricanes, earthquakes, war – are present that the state has an obligation to do what it can to rescue its citizens.  A combination of government, military and commercial resources needs to be mustered to travel abroad and bring Canadians home. After all, their plight is not theirs in the making.

So what do we do in the case of someone like Farah Shirdon?  To recap, Mr. Shirdon is a Calgarian who decided a couple of years ago to leave Canada and join Islamic State (IS), a listed terrorist entity in this country. He became a ‘star jihadi’ of sorts after granting a threatening interview to Canada media outlet and appeared in an infamous jihadi video in which he tears up his Canadian passport, throws it on a fire and states menacingly ‘We are coming for your Barack Obama’ while surrounded by fellow jihadis all yelling Allah Akbar.

As it turns out, Mr. Shirdon may be dead, possibly killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in 2015.  If so, that would be a good thing because a dead terrorist is one less terrorist to worry about back home.  This may strike some as harsh, and I certainly can commiserate with his family here in Canada – after all it wasn’t because of them that their son/brother/nephew joined a terrorist group – but we have enough terrorists and foreign fighters to worry about already.  A man who bragged about committing terrorism in North America is not someone we should welcome back with open arms.

And yet some experts maintain that the government may have no choice but to “try to repatriate and prosecute in Canada any detained members, ensuring they aren’t tortured or otherwise mistreated by local forces.”   After a series of cases where Canada has admitted its role, usually indirect, in the mistreatment of citizens linked to terrorism abroad – Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, etc.- it would not be surprising should any government be keen not to have yet another alleged tortured Canadian on its watch and take steps to bring these people home.

Bending over backwards to ‘rescue’ jihadis may be the ‘right thing’ to do for some but it is clearly the wrong thing to do. We are talking about individuals who willingly and deliberately left our land, joined a terrorist group, drank the ‘jihadi Koolaid’ and probably took part in illegal acts up to and including crimes against humanity.  Note that this was a conscious decision on their part: this is not about brainwashing or coercion or force.  These wannabe heroes decided that becoming a part of IS was either a cool thing to do or even a religious obligation.  They deserve to be punished, if necessary by the countries in which those acts were committed.

Perhaps an analogy may help.  If a Canadian were to travel to southeast Asia and engage in sexual acts with young boys would there be a hue and cry if Thai or Vietnamese officials arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated him, throwing away the key?  I think not.  So why would we see and treat terrorists differently?

No, I am not okay with torture and I certainly accept that some countries engage in such activity in their security and prison systems.  In those cases we have to press for humane treatment since not doing so reduces us to the same level in the swamp as the IS extremists who rape women and throw gays off buildings.  And I also think that the children of Canadian terrorists who joined IS need our help since they had no choice in being part of the so-called ‘Caliphate’.  Those should be the subject of government action, although even there we have a potential problem as some of these children became the ‘lion cubs’ of the Caliphate and engaged in horrific acts of violence.

Mr. Shirdon however, if he is alive, deserves his fate as do others like him.  He made a bad choice – a series of bad choices actually – and we are all personally responsible for our decisions.  To move heaven and earth to get people like that back to Canada would be a travesty and a mockery of what Canada stands for. Leave them where they are and let them pay for their heinous acts of violence.




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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