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Two Canadian women arrested after release from Syria ISIS detention camp

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Two Canadian women have been arrested after arriving in Canada following their repatriation from an ISIS detention camp in Syria.

The RCMP said Wednesday that it arrested Oumaima Chouay, 27, at the airport in Montreal. Police said she had been “the subject of an investigation by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) since November 2014,” and they have filed terrorism charges against her. The charges against Chouay, which have not been proven in court, include participation in activity of a terrorist group and leaving Canada to do so.

Canadian Kimberly Polman was also arrested after arriving in Montreal following her repatriation from the detention camp in Syria, according to her lawyer. Lawrence Greenspon told CTV News in an email that his client was arrested under Section 810 of the Criminal Code, a peace bond, and was en route to Abbotsford, B.C., while in police custody.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada confirmed that four Canadians – two children and two women – were repatriated from northeast Syria.

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“Canada thanks the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for its co-operation and recognizes its efforts in providing care for the detained individuals under an extremely difficult security situation and adverse circumstances,” the statement said. “The safety and security of Canadians, both at home and abroad, is a top priority of the Government of Canada. Canada conducted the operation on that basis and ensured the health and well-being of the 4 Canadians.”

Global Affairs also thanked the United States for its assistance and said it cannot provide any details of the repatriation due to privacy and security concerns.

Polman was arrested by Kurdish fighters in Syria for her alleged association to ISIS in 2019, and had been detained there until her release. The camp is currently home to more than 2,600 internally displaced persons (IDPs) which allegedly include the wives, widows and families of ISIS members.

Polman has insisted she was lured to Syria in 2015 by her husband, an ISIS member whom she met online. In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch described Polman as a U.S.-Canadian dual citizen who converted to Islam as an adult and mostly lived in Canada before travelling to Syria to be an ISIS nurse.

Until her release, Polman was one of nearly 50 Canadians believed to be held in Kurdish-run camps in northeastern Syria. According to Human Rights Watch, more than half of those Canadians are children, many under the age of seven.

In an interview earlier in 2022, Polman described dire camp conditions and her deteriorating health.

“Mentally, I’ve gone downhill, especially the last year,” Polman told CTV National News at the time. “I attempted to take my life several times and I can see serious signs of depression in some of the other Canadian women as well.”

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser maintained that repatriated Canadians who supported terrorist groups abroad should face criminal charges, regardless of their circumstances around their actions, detainment or repatriation.

“Fundamentally, travelling for the purpose of supporting terrorism is a crime in Canada, and anyone who travelled for the purpose of supporting terrorism should face criminal charges,” Trudeau said. “I’m not going to speak directly to any given situation because it’s in the hands of the police and perhaps eventually the courts, but it is important that we make sure that people know, you can not get away with supporting terrorism in this country, regardless of the circumstances.”

Fraser added that the federal government is monitoring the wellbeing of Canadians in foreign detention camps and is aware children are “involved in these kinds of circumstances,” as well.

“I think what people need to understand is that we rely on our law enforcement partners to ensure that anybody who’s been travelling to take part in terrorist behaviour, to be part of a group, has committed a crime, whether they’re abroad or in Canada, and they’ll be treated as such,” Fraser said.

While European countries such as Germany, Denmark and France have repatriated their citizens in ISIS detention camps with the help of local Kurdish officials, Canada previously appeared hesitant to organize releases for adult citizens.

Global Affairs Canada did adopt a policy framework in January 2021 that may have allowed Polman – who a Doctors Without Borders examination found was suffering from conditions such as hepatitis – to qualify for “extraordinary assistance” and repatriation due to an “imminent, life-threatening medical condition, with no prospect of receiving medical treatment” in Syria. However, Human Rights Watch has accused the federal government of blocking subsequent attempts to bring Polman back to Canada.

In September 2021, Greenspon sued the federal government on behalf of 11 families in an effort to bring 26 Canadians home from Syria: 14 children, four men and eight women, including Polman.

“They are living in terrible, terrible conditions and we are going to federal court to try and require Global Affairs Canada to make an official request for their repatriation,” Greenspon told CTV National News on Tuesday. “All that [Kurdish officials in Syria] require is an official request by Canada in order to make that happen.”

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Canada’s immigration backlog has decreased to 2.2 million – Canada Immigration News

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Published on December 9th, 2022 at 08:00am EST

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Latest data from IRCC shows reduction in the backlog of applications

New data obtained from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reports that Canada’s immigration backlog has dropped to just over 2.2 million.

In an email to CIC News, IRCC provided updated data, which is current as of December 2.

The inventory across all lines of business has progressed as follows since July 2021:

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Current Inventories

The citizenship inventory stands at 314,630 applicants as of November 30, compared to 331,401 on October 31.

The permanent residence inventory stands at 512,342 people as of December 2, compared to 506,421 as of November 3.

Also on December 2, the temporary residence inventory stood at 1,416, 125 people, compared to 1,537,566 persons as of November 3.

Therefore, there were reductions in two of the three major categories, with the biggest reduction in the temporary residence inventory.

Immigration Category Persons as of December 2, 2022
Permanent Residence 512,342
Temporary Residence 1,416,125
Citizenship 314,630
Grand total 2,243,097

Express Entry and PNP inventories

As of December 2, there are 43,326 applications for Express Entry programs waiting in the queue, an increase of over 3,500 since November 3 data, which stood at 39,589.

Among the total people applying for Express Entry programs, there has been an increase of nearly 5,000 applications for the Canadian Experience Class over the past month.

IRCC resumed holding rounds of invitations for Express Entry candidates from all programs in July this year. Draws were limited to the candidates in the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) between September 21, 2021 and July 6, 2022 due to IRCC struggling to meet its service standard of six months or less for Express Entry applications. The pause in Express Entry invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class  candidates enabled IRCC to reduce the Express Entry inventory and the department is back to its six month service standard for those who have received a permanent residence invitation since July 6.

The PNP has an inventory of 62,343 total applications (both base and enhanced combined).

Family class inventory

The inventory for all family class immigration programs has dropped slightly to 127,091 compared to November 3 when it was 128,112.

The Spouses and Partners sponsorship program is among the largest inventories among all lines of business, at 62,106, a minimal increase compared with November 3.

The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) has an inventory of 53,770 persons compared to 55,653 persons waiting for decisions in November.

Service standards

IRCC’s webpage that tracks the total inventory of applications shows that as of October 31, 1.2 million applications are considered backlog.

Data from September 30 showed that there were 1.5 million applications in backlog, meaning that IRCC cleared over 350,000 applications from the backlog. This comes while the number of applications in inventory has risen for permanent residency.

An application in backlog means it has not been processed within service standards. These standards provide the expected timeline, or goal, for how long it should take to process an application. The service standard is different from the actual amount of time that IRCC takes to process applications. Applications not processed within the service standard for their program are categorized as backlog.

IRCC aims to process 80% of applications across all lines of business within service standards. The service standard varies depending on the type of application. For example, a permanent residence application through an Express Entry program has a standard of six months. It is longer for other economic class lines of business. IRCC states its service standard for spousal and child family class sponsorship is 12 months.

Temporary residence applications have service standards that range between 60-120 days depending on the type of application (work or study) and if it was submitted within Canada or from abroad.

Tackling the backlog

The department reports that between January and October 2022, they produced 4.3 million final decisions for permanent residents, temporary residents and citizenship compared to 2.3 million final decisions in the same period last year.

IRCC aims to have a less than 50% backlog across all lines of business by the end of March 2023. To help meet this goal, the department began the transition towards 100% digital applications for most permanent resident programs on September 23, with accommodations made for those who are unable to apply online.

This transition also includes citizenship applications, which are now 100% online for all applicants over the age of 18. IRCC is aiming to make all citizenship applications digital by the end of this year, including those for minors under 18.

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Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals

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Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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