Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Canadians detained in Syria: request for hearing at the Supreme Court

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In a new opinion filed with the highest court country, lawyers for the four men say exceptional circumstances warrant reconsideration of their application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

Four Canadians detained in Syria are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to reconsider their request for a hearing that could allow them to be repatriated.

The Supreme Court refused last November to hear their challenge to a ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal, which concluded that the Canadian government was not obligated under the law , to repatriate them. As usual, the court gave no reason to justify its refusal to reexamine the case.

In a new opinion Filed with the country's highest court, lawyers for the four men say exceptional circumstances warrant reconsideration of their application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The four Canadians detained in Syria are among many foreign nationals held in dilapidated prisons run by Kurdish forces, who wrested this war-ravaged region from the Islamic State armed group.

Jack Letts, one of the Canadians detained in Syria, became a devout Muslim as a teenager, traveled to Jordan, then studied in Kuwait before ending up in Syria.

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Sally Lane, the mother of Jack Letts, demonstrating for the repatriation of her son, detained without charge in Syria. (File photo)

The identities of the other three have not been made public.

In the initial petition to the highest court, lawyers for four Canadians argued that their clients had been arbitrarily detained for several years without charge or trial.

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They are imprisoned in extremely overcrowded and unsanitary jails, and at least one Canadian is detained with 30 other men in a cell built for 6 people, the lawyers argued. They lack adequate food and medical care, and one of the applicants reported to Canadian government officials that he had been tortured.

Lawyers said foreign jailers would release the four Canadians if Ottawa requested it and facilitated their repatriation, as it has done for some Canadian women and children held in camps in Syria.

In the recently filed opinion in the Supreme Court, lawyers for the four men argue that there is a constitutional imperative for the highest court to agree to hear a case when the evidence reveals questions of ;importance to the public based on serious human rights violations.

Recent evidence indicates that Canada will not repatriate these men, says the #x27;opinion. As a result, they are sentenced to indefinite and arbitrary detention in cruel and life-threatening conditions in an increasingly dangerous and unstable region.

The Supreme Court is at the apex of the Canadian judicial system and its initial refusal to hear the appeal constitutes a failure in its supervisory role, the opinion states.

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The Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria is home to the wives and children of foreign jihadists. (File photo)

This situation is compounded in the international context where the question of a state's responsibility to assist a seriously distressed and vulnerable citizen is recognized as an evolving area of ​​international human rights law. p>

In an affidavit filed with the notice, former Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve asserts that this matter raises new unresolved human rights issues that affect all Canadians and could influence practices in other countries.

Mr. Neve, who was part of a civil society delegation that visited Syrian prison camps last summer, highlights the frustration of Canadian advocates, who sought clarification from ;Global Affairs Canada on its position regarding assistance to detainees still there.

The four men first won a battle in their legal saga in January 2023, when Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ordered Ottawa to seek their repatriation as soon as reasonably possible and provide them with passports or passports. emergency travel documents to get them out of these squalid conditions.

Justice Brown added that the men also had the right to have a representative of the federal government travel to Syria to assist in their release once the captors agreed to hand them over to Canadian authorities.

But the Canadian government argued on appeal that Justice Brown had wrongly confused citizens' Charter right to enter Canada with the right to ;return to it, thereby creating a new right for citizens to be repatriated by the government.

The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with Ottawa's argument, affirming that Justice Brown's interpretation would require the Government of Canada to take concrete, even risky, measures, particularly abroad, to allow the respondents to exercise their right to enter Canada.

In postscript , the judges of the Federal Court of Appeal emphasize, however, that even if the government is not obliged by the Constitution or by law to repatriate these men, the reasons of the court are not intended to discourage the Canadian administration from deploying efforts, of its own accord, to obtain such a result.

In several other cases, the x27;Canadian administration succeeded in repatriating Canadian citizens from camps located in northeast Syria despite practical and legal obstacles, the judges recall.

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