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'Bring our Canadians home': Lawyer files suit on behalf of 26 Canadians stuck in Syrian camps – CTV News

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TORONTO —
A lawyer suing the federal government to force it to bring 26 Canadians with ISIS ties back home from Syrian refugee camps says time is of the essence to bring them back home to Canada.

Last month, a proceeding was filed on behalf of 11 families alleging that the federal government has neglected to uphold parts of the Federal Court Act, the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, when it comes to the government’s efforts in repatriating their loved ones.

“It’s basically an effort to require Global Affairs Canada to do what they should be doing, which is bring our Canadians home,” Lawrence Greenspon, a criminal defence lawyer who filed the suit, told CTV News.

“There’s absolutely no reason why these Canadians can’t be brought home to their loved ones here in Canada.”

In all, the application lists 26 Canadians — 14 children, eight women and four men — who are being held in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj prison camps and the Hasakah, Qamishli and Derik prisons in regions across north-eastern Syria.

The application also describes the conditions in the camps as “horrific” with “non-existent hygiene measures” and a “lack of clean water.”

“The conditions in the camps, and certainly in the prisons, are such that everyday matters and we would hope to get this on as quickly as possible,” Greenspon said.

Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE), said there are more than just the 26 Canadians in this application who are stuck in Syria.

“We still have approximately 40 people, not all of them are with our organization, but this court case will benefit them,” she told CTV News. “We have over 25 children and each one of those children is a Canadian citizen.”

Greenspon hopes the suit will force the Canadian government to issue passports to these detainees, officially request repatriation and appoint someone to oversee the detainees’ handover.

Global Affairs Canada did not provide a statement by publishing time, but issued a statement last month about the same case and said at the time that the government is “aware of Canadians citizens being detained in Northeastern Syria and is particularly concerned with cases of Canadian children in the region.”

The statement also notes that the situation in the area has made limited the government’s ability to provide consular services to Canadians.

Global Affairs had declined to comment further, citing the Privacy Act and that it was a matter before the courts.

OTHERS CASES SHOW IT CAN BE DONE

Greenspon filed a similar motion last year on behalf of Amira, a five-year-old orphan who was stuck at the Al-Hol camp. He said after filing the documentation, Amira was quickly brought to Canada to live with her uncle and grandparents.

Since Amira’s case, another Canadian child trapped in Syria has been brought home as well, Greenspon added.

In the past, Global Affairs has cited the instability of the region and a lack of consular services in Syria for the inaction on bringing these Canadians home, but Greenspon argues the cases of Amira and the other child show that it can be done.

“There was no incident,” he said. “It wasn’t a matter of security and the fact we don’t have consular relations was not an obstacle.

We were able to do that for Amira, so the real question is why we can’t do it for the other 26 Canadians that are over there and in very, very harsh conditions?”

Bain reiterated that any notion of it being too difficult for government officials to enter into Syria is simply not true.

“The government continues to act as if there’s absolutely nothing they can do for this people, (that) it’s impossible to get into northeast Syria, which is nonsense,” she said.

Other countries, such as France and Germany, have brought back several detainees, including children.

LOVED ONES PLEAD FOR HELP

Among those named in the application is Kimberly Polman, who married an ISIS fighter and moved to Syria in 2015. She had planned to use her nursing skills to help the women and children in the region, but quickly regretted the move.

When Polman tried to leave, she was imprisoned and is now in a camp and on a hunger strike.

“It’s the worst form of torture being kept, not only in these conditions, but kept indefinitely,” said Polman’s sister, who is not being named for safety reasons.

“She doesn’t have a trial date. She doesn’t have any charges against her.”

Polman’s sister said that Canadians don’t have to like what her loved one has done, but her sister is a Canadian citizen and should have the same rights as everyone else.

Bain said anyone returning to Canada would likely significant medical treatment, mental health counselling, educational training and in some cases will need help “pulling away from extremism.”

“We want to bring these kids home and repair what’s been done, and that’s what we’re working towards,” she said. “All of the children under six years old bear no responsibility for joining such a group.”

Greenspon said there is no timeline for when these Canadians might be returned, but is hopeful that this can be resolved within “weeks.”

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Christy Somos

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Tuesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

New Zealand’s government says it will expand a vaccine mandate to include thousands of workers who have close contact with their customers — including those at restaurants, bars, gyms and hair salons.

The changes will mean that about 40 per cent of all New Zealand workers will need to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t believe the new rules were an overreach of government power, but would ensure customers and employees are treated equally.

The government had already introduced a vaccine mandate for workers in certain sectors, including those who operate in the health and eduction sectors.

People are vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination centre on Tuesday in Otara, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand. (Dean Purcell/New Zealand Herald/The Associated Press)

New Zealand is aiming to get 90 per cent of all people aged 12 and up fully vaccinated to put an end to lockdowns. According to the health ministry, 71 per cent of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated. 

As part of its plan to end lockdowns, New Zealand will also require people visiting high-traffic businesses to show vaccine passports to prove they’ve had their shots.

The island nation has seen a total of 28 related deaths and 5,822 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the global pandemic. 

-From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Saskatchewan premier refuses COVID-19 restrictions, says situation improving

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the COVID-19 situation is improving, new restrictions aren’t needed and would be unfair to the vaccinated. Public health experts are calling for gathering limits, which the mayor of Saskatoon is bringing in. 1:59


What’s happening around the world

A teen winces as she receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg last week. South Africa is giving COVID-19 vaccinations to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years, with a goal of inoculating at least six million people from this age group. (Denis Farrell/The Associated Press)

As of late Tuesday morning, more than 244.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.

Moderna said it will make up to 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available to African countries. Tuesday’s announcement says Moderna is prepared to deliver the first 15 million doses by the end of this year, with 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

It said “all doses are offered at Moderna’s lowest tiered price.” The company called it “the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union.” Africa and its 1.3 billion people remain the least-vaccinated region of the world against COVID-19, with just over five per cent fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Senegal and Rwanda have signed an agreement with German company BioNTech for the construction of its first start-to-finish factories to make messenger RNA vaccines in Africa.

BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said Tuesday that construction will start in mid-2022. It is working with the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and the Rwandan government, a statement said.

In the Middle East on Monday, health officials reported 7,516 new cases of COVID-19 and 140 additional deaths. 

In Europe, the EU’s drug regulator said it has concluded in its review that Moderna’s COVID-19 booster vaccine may be given to people aged 18 years and above, at least six months after the second dose.

Students wearing protective mask stand outside a school on the first day of in-person classes since the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions in Caracas, Venezuela. (Manuare Quintero/Getty Images)

In the Americas, Venezuela reopened public schools and universities, which serve more than 11 million students, though some schools remained closed for repairs or because of lack of staff.

Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be getting closer in the U.S. as government advisers on Tuesday began deliberating whether there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and effective for six- to 11-year-olds.

In a preliminary analysis last week, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewers said that protection would “clearly outweigh” the risk of a very rare side effect in almost all scenarios of the pandemic. Now FDA advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia is reportedly finalizing a deal with Merck & Co to procure its experimental antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 ailments.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

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Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart

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Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.

Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.

Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.

Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.

Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.

In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.

“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.

Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.

MONEY SCANDAL

Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.

The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.

Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.

Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.

The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.

“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.

The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike

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Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.

European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.

Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.

Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.

In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.

“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.

“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.

Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.

With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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