The question of what to do with Canadians who left the country to join ISIS, and who are languishing in camps along the Syrian-Iraq border, is one that has haunted the federal government for years.
ISIS fighters, their wives, widows and children are scattered throughout camps in northern Syria or detained in prisons. It’s estimated that 35 women and children are in the Al-Roj camp alone, and eight Canadian men accused of being ISIS fighters are currently incarcerated in Kurdish prisons.
Last October, five-year-old Amira, who was living in Syria’s Al-Hol camp after losing her father and mother in an airstrike, was finally able to be reunited with her uncle in Canada. Amira was handed over by the Kurds to an official Canadian delegation at a Syrian border town.
Last week, former American diplomat Peter Galbraith travelled to northern Syria to collect a four-year-old Canadian girl after her mother released her from her custody in Al-Roj camp so she could live with her aunt in Canada. In this case, the Canadian government only assisted with the travel documents.
For Leila Sakhir of Montreal, watching those two children be repatriated is a painful reminder of her own two-year-old niece, stranded in a Syrian camp.
“I always think about her and her mother,” Sakhir told CTV News. “I have two daughters…and I think about her in her tent, such different conditions and it seems so unfair, so inexplicable.”
Sakhir is concerned that if she one day is able to get her niece out of Al-Hol camp, it may have to be without the child’s mother — “an impossible choice to make,” she says.
Sakhir’s brother Youssef was one of the several Quebec men who left Canada in 2014 and 2015 to join the ranks of ISIS overseas, where he eventually married a Moroccan woman and had a child.
“It was a real shock. It was a shock for my whole family,” Sakhir said. “We just could not believe it…I remembered I just fell to my knees.”
Youssef was killed in a 2019 bombing. One of the last photos Sakhir has of her brother is a picture of him and his baby girl.
Sakhir’s story was the subject of a documentary film entitled “Les Poussieres De Daesch,” or “The Dust of ISIS,” chronicling her journey to find her niece and sister-in-law in Al-Hol and then the short time she spent with them inside the camp.
And while Sakhir acknowledged that there is very little sympathy from the public for those who joined the terrorist organization, she told CTV News that Canada needs to step up and perform its duty for the sake of the children who are serving a sentence alongside their parents in the camps.
“They are not dealing with the situation right now,” Sakhir said of the federal government. “I think it is not Canadian, it is not what we imagine Canada would do – ignore them.”
Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have repeatedly criticized Canada for “appearing to withhold effective consular assistance to detainees over their suspected links to ISIS,” which the group argues “could amount to unlawful discrimination.”
According to the HRW the “indefinite detention without charge of the Canadians amounts to guilt by association and collective punishment, prohibited under international law. The inhuman or degrading treatment in the camps and prisons may constitute torture,” and Canada is “failing to take adequate steps” to repatriate its citizens, the HRW said.
Extremism scholar at Queen’s University, Amarnath Amarasingam, told CTV News that the “moral thing to do from a rich first world country is to bring back people who are your citizens and charge them at home.”
“Then provide support for the children who were there through no fault of their own, many were born in Syria, many were born in the camps” he continued.
Sakhir, reflecting on her brother’s actions, told CTV News that she lays blame squarely at his feet.
“I blame him for everything, I blame him for making this stupid choice, for having a kid in those conditions, for dying, for pretty much everything.”
Government officials and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said little about the Canadian children and their parents held in these camps, continuing to maintain that the security situation in the region limits Canada’s ability to provide help on the ground.
Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.
Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.
The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.
The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.
Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.
($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.
Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”
Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.
The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)
Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits
By Liz Hampton
DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.
The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.
As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.
“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.
In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.
Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.
By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.
Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)