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Canadian court overturns ruling to repatriate men held in Syrian camps

Federal Appeals Court says right to enter Canada is "not a golden ticket". The family of one man says they will appeal
Jack Letts, a Muslim convert from Oxford, is among the four Canadian men whom the court has blocked from returning home (ITV Screengrab)
Jack Letts, a Muslim convert from Oxford, is among the four Canadian men whom the court has blocked from returning home (ITV Screengrab)

Canada's Federal Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling that ordered the repatriation of four men held among suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters in a Syrian prison.

In January, the Federal Court ordered Canada to return the men "as soon as reasonably possible", citing poor conditions in prison and that they had not faced a trial or been charged. 

But on Wednesday, three appeal court judges said the earlier judgement had interpreted the right of Canadians to return to their country too widely.

"The right to enter, remain in, and leave Canada, is not a golden ticket for Canadian citizens abroad to force their government to take steps - even risky, dangerous steps - so they can escape the consequences of their actions," the ruling says.

The men, who travelled to Syria against the travel advice of the Canadian government, have been held in prison camps for suspected IS fighters run by Kurdish forces.

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They include Jack Letts, a Muslim convert from Oxford, who travelled to IS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq aged 18 in 2014. 

'From the very start, Canada has held the key to their release'

- Sally Lane, Jack Letts' mother

Like many other British dual nationals in Syria, Letts was stripped of his British citizenship because the family are also Canadian nationals.

His family have long stated that there is no evidence that he was an IS fighter. 

His mother, Sally Lane, said the appeal court had decided "to perpetuate the arbitrary detention and torture" of Letts.

"The decision is nothing but victim-blaming and narrow legalese that stands in utter contempt of human rights law and fails to rise to the challenge of the moment," Lane said in a statement.

Plan to appeal

"From the very start, Canada has held the key to their release, and it refuses to unlock the prison doors that the Kurds are willing to hold open for them."

Lane told Middle East Eye that she and her husband plan to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

Lawrence Greenspon, a lawyer for the other men who have remained anonymous, told the CBC that his clients are also considering an appeal.

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Letta Tayler, associate director and counterterrorism lead for Human Rights Watch called the ruling "tragic", saying it could lower the bar for the rights of national security suspects worldwide.

"Repatriations do not have to [mean] allowing these [IS] suspects to 'escape the consequences of their actions'. They can be prosecuted at home if appropriate," she tweeted.

"Also, Canada does not have to take 'risky, dangerous steps' to bring these men home. The US has repeatedly offered to help countries repatriate their nationals from [northeast] Syria."

Canada has agreed to repatriate six women and 13 children from northeastern Syria, some of whom returned in April, including three women who were immediately taken into police custody.

The women were later released on terrorism peace bonds that allow a court to order a person to agree to keep the peace or risk a prison sentence.

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