No, Canada should NOT rush to repatriate ISIS terrorists

Despite a robust fan club for ‘ISIS brides’ there are very good reasons NOT to repatriate these terrorists to Canada.

The Canadian government has not been totally honest with us over the past few years (cue the outrage!).  They have said repeatedly that it has been far too dangerous to send our diplomats into the territories in northern Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan where a few dozen of our fellow citizens have been held, sometimes in camps like Al Hol, after having been captured as ISIS terrorists.

Far too dangerous??  I personally know a half dozen academics and journalists who have done just that, traveled to those regions and met with our compatriots who somehow thought that joining a heinous, misogynistic, violent terrorist group like ISIS was a good idea. And they did not seem to have a problem.

In fairness, many of our Western allies have had similar policies, resulting in a situation where these ex(?) terrorists languish in squalid conditions.  This unacceptable fate has also given rise to a sort of ‘fan club’, those screaming for the government of Justin Trudeau to bring back our citizens.

Well, that now appears to have occurred, at least in part.

Two Canadian women were arrested in Montreal immediately upon their arrival  after being repatriated from a Syrian detention camp for family members of ISIS fighters (Psst, they are terrorists, not ‘fighters’: and can we PLEASE dump the use of the term ‘ISIS bride’???)  One of them, Oumaima Chouay, is facing multiple criminal charges, including participating in a terrorist group.  ISIS is on the “list of terrorist entities” maintained by Public Safety Canada.  The other, Kimberly Polman, was actually released from custody pending a ‘terrorist peace bond’ hearing!

Hip, hip….hooray?

Despite the pleas of their lawyer and fans, there are several good reasons NOT to repatriate these terrorists.  The three most prominent are:

  1. The victims of their crimes are over THERE not in Canada.  ISIS was responsible for massacres, the enslavement of women and rape, as well as horrific ways of killing people (drowning in cages, burning alive, throwing off buildings, beheadings…the list goes on and on). Don’t these people deserve to see justice done in their own lands?  The fact that Iraqi and Syrian justice practices (including capital punishment) may not reach our lofty standards is a non-argument: they don’t tell us how to run their courts – why should we tell them?
  2. Related to this point is the probable low success rate of conviction in Canadian trials. The witnesses are all over THERE, not here in Canada.  Will the Crown be able to bring them here to testify, let alone even locate them?  I fear not.
  3. These women joined terrorist groups and most assuredly gained knowledge that could be used to plan attacks in Canada should they walk free (don’t talk to me about the inhibitory nature of peace bonds: look at the Aaron Driver case of 2016).  Furthermore, if you think women returning, even unsuccessfully, from having joined ISIS do not pose a threat have a gander at the Rehab Dughmosh case).  Furthermore, some communities are livid at having these women ‘dumped’ into their midst (here is an example from Sydney, Australia)

I could add that if these women, as I predict, walk free they will need to be monitored for an indeterminate amount of time by CSIS and/or the RCMP to see just what level of threat they pose (even if they act as recruiters/’poster girls’ for ISIS that is not an insignificant danger).  As a retired CSIS strategic terrorism analyst for 15 years I well know what the resource implications of this monitoring are.  CSIS and the RCMP are already stretched very thin by all the intelligence priorities (PRC ‘police stations’  in Canada, Russian interference, a slightly more capable far right bunch, etc.).  Why would anyone want to add to that workload?

There are thus no really good reasons to bring these women home.  Let them face justice where their crimes were committed (yes, leaving Canada to join ISIS is a crime but isn’t mass rape/murder more serious?): isn’t that a universal right for victims where it is possible to allow them to see justice done?  If, and only if, they are found guilty over THERE should we be talking extradition, where such a bilateral treaty exists.

Other nations are having second thoughts as well.  Iraq, which is the native land of the majority of ISIS terrorists, recently decided to slow down its repatriation strategy, especially given the stigma attached to the perceived or actual ties of these terrorists to ISIS.

There are those who call me insensitive and cruel for my position.  Oh well, three decades in intelligence makes you a realist, not an optimist.  Guilty as charged!  Unlike the most probable outcome of Chouay’s trial I fear.

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.

Leave a Reply