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Two Canadian women arrested after release from Syria ISIS detention camp



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.

“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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Pilot dead after ultralight plane crash northwest of Fredericton




FREDERICTON – The pilot of an ultralight plane died after the aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 25 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Ken Hodgson, fire chief of Keswick Valley Fire Department, says his team received a call at 11:33 a.m. about a crash in Burtts Corner, N.B., along Route 104, which links the province to Nova Scotia.

Hodgson says there were no other casualties.

Ambulance New Brunswick, the coroner’s office and RCMP also responded to the crash.

In a news release, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it deployed a team of investigators to an “aircraft accident near Fredericton.”

But the agency did not immediately respond to questions asking for details about the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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B.C. Interior residents get ready to go as erupting wildfire threatens




It’s the first time The Inn at Spences Bridge has been empty since April.

Dorothy Boragno, who owns the inn with her husband Michael Findlay, said Friday they watched thick smoke across the Thompson River from the out-of-control Shetland Creek wildfire that has already forced others to evacuate.

“We’ve been through fires before, so we know what happens, and if they get close, usually we get firemen to stay at our hotel, so we’re not too worried yet. But it does bring back bad memories,” said Boragno.

The Shetland Creek fire in the southern Interior more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, due to what the B.C. Wildfire Service said was “significant overnight growth” and more accurate mapping.

Its rapid spread was part of an eruption of wildfire activity across B.C., with more than 270 burning as of Friday afternoon, most caused by recent lightning storms, then fuelled by hot, dry weather and winds.

The Shetland Creek fire is now listed at 132 square kilometres in size, up from 57 square kilometres, and has prompted evacuation orders and alerts in the communities of Spences Bridge, Ashcroft and part of Cache Creek, east of Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire advanced about six kilometres in a northwest direction parallel to Highway 1 Thursday night.

It is considered the only “wildfire of note” in B.C., meaning it is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety or infrastructure.

The wildfire service says 71 firefighters and six helicopters are battling the blaze in addition to structure protection personnel, heavy equipment operators, and an incident management team.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded an evacuation order in front of the fire on Thursday evening to cover about 85 properties in the Venables Valley area, while the Cook’s Ferry Indian Band has issued orders for several reserves along the Thompson River.

Hundreds of other properties are subject to an evacuation alert, with the district telling them to be ready to leave on short notice.

The Village of Cache Creek on Friday issued an evacuation alert because of the fire out of an “abundance of caution.” The alert includes the Cache Creek Regional Airport and nine other properties, but the main sections of the village are not yet on alert.

The Village of Ashcroft is also under an evacuation alert and Mayor Barbara Roden said Friday that the fire’s aggressive behaviour is “very concerning.”

“So, residents are very on edge. They have been ever since this fire started and it was clear that it was going to be heading in this direction,” she said. “It’s been thick smoke here for the last few days even though the fire is still several kilometres away, there’s ash falling on everything here in Ashcroft.”

The nearby Ashcroft Indian Band, which is also on evacuation alert, posted a notice on Facebook Friday, saying band leaders understand that “everyone is on edge with the Shetland Creek Fire burning nearby.”

The statement said they are in constant contact with the BC Wildfire Service, getting updates when available and they appreciate everyone’s co-operation in conserving water they have in the reservoirs to “use in a worst-case scenario.”

“In the meantime, we have our maintenance and fire mitigation crews out in the community adding more fireguards around the south and east side. As an additional piece to our regular fire mitigation practices, they are clearing debris and flammable fuels from around power poles and hydrants and we have a water tank on a trailer with hoses ready to go.”

Boragno said they are also ready to get out, with a cat cage and a bag of “special stuff” ready next to the door.

She said it was touching to see the whole town pull together with people helping each other out, because no one likes going through this.

“It brings back huge trauma for people who lost their homes and stuff,” said Boragno.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service said Thursday the province appeared to be “on the precipice of a very challenging 72 hours” with hot weather, dry lightning and strong winds in the forecast.

Environment Canada on Friday issued a series of severe thunderstorm watches across much of the B.C. Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Stuart-Nechako region in the north.

The storms mostly overlap the almost 30 areas that are also under heat warnings, and while they may bring hail and rain, they also bring lightning and winds that trigger and fuel fires. The heat warnings span most of the southern Interior and stretch up through central B.C. into the northeast, along with inland sections of the north and central coasts.

The weather office says much of the Interior is expected to see temperatures in the 30s over the coming days, along with overnight lows in the mid-teens.

For Roden the forecast offers little hope for relief with temperatures topping 40 degrees, but she’s hopeful that people will remain calm and ready to leave if it comes to that.

“So, you’ve got the smoke, you’ve got the ash, you’ve got the heat,” she said. “All these factors coming together are making people very edgy, very nervous. They’re remembering fires past and, and it’s the uncertainty.”

Roden said the village had fires in 2017 and 2021 “on our doorstep.”

“Part of my job as mayor is to try to ensure that people don’t panic,” she added. “I cannot think of any situation that has ever been improved by people panicking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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Newfoundland town on edge as crews search for missing vessel with seven people aboard




NEW-WES-VALLEY, N.L. – Anxiety gripped a Newfoundland fishing community Friday as a massive search was underway for a missing vessel carrying seven harvesters that hadn’t been heard from in two days.

Mike Tiller, mayor of New-Wes-Valley, N.L., said local fishers were heading out in their private boats to join the search, while people on land gathered together to wait for word about the missing vessel.

The town cancelled its nine-day Crab Festival, set to begin Saturday, out of respect for the families of the missing fishers, he said.

“Our community doesn’t have much to celebrate until we know the outcome of this,” Tiller said in an interview. “If it’s a positive outcome, and seven of those fishermen show up at the wharf, I think it’ll be the biggest celebration we’ve ever had. But right now, celebrating is not on the agenda for anybody.”

The Elite Navigator fishing boat was reported overdue to the Canadian Coast Guard on Thursday afternoon, said Lt.-Cmdr. Len Hickey, with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax. The vessel’s responder last transmitted a signal at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

The 15-metre-long boat was carrying seven crew members, five of whom are from New-Wes-Valley, Tiller said. The other two are from coastal towns nearby. New-Wes-Valley is an amalgamation of several small fishing communities along Newfoundland’s northeast coast and home to about 2,000 people.

Four coast guard vessels, a Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft and a plane from PAL Airlines were searching for the missing boat Friday, along with a fleet of local fishers. A thick bank of fog hampered their efforts on Thursday night, but conditions were clearer on Friday, Hickey said.

“I know they’re considering draft charts as well, just in case the vessel just lost propulsion,” he added.

Coastal communities across Newfoundland and Labrador are knit together by the fishing industry, and by the grief of losing community members to one of the deadliest professions in the country.

“Every community that has been hit by something like this relives it again when they know it’s going on in another part of the province,” Tiller said. “They know the anxiety that’s being felt, they know the worst can happen. And everybody is hoping that this is just a lost fishing vessel.”

Premier Andrew Furey expressed his concern for the missing harvesters and their friends and family in a post to social media Friday morning.

“We will be there to support the community during this challenging time as we hope for a positive outcome,” Furey wrote on X. “Thank you to all those involved in the search effort.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax erroneously reported that the boat was last heard from on Thursday night. In fact, it was last heard from on Wednesday night.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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