Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are in agreement: there are hundreds of people with strong links to Canada who are suspected of travelling overseas to engage in terrorist activity, most in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). And now, scores of them are back in Canada following the collapse of that terror state.
The odds are reasonable that there are veterans of terrorism living in Atlantic Canada.
Some troubling issues come to mind. Are the returnees determined to carry on the fight from Canada? Or are they disenchanted and want only to resume ordinary lives?
And there is a more perplexing question. Legislation passed in 2013 to combat terrorism allows authorities to arrest and prosecute Canadians who plan to join a foreign terrorist group or fight for a foreign power. For example, just over two months ago, a Quebec court sentenced a Gatineau man to nine years in prison for trying to leave Canada to participate in terrorist activity, under a section of the Anti-terrorism Act enacted by Stephen Harper’s government four years ago.
Yet, when Canadians who left and fought abroad for terror groups — in some cases against Canadian troops or our NATO allies — come home, the strongest repercussion they face is increased RCMP surveillance.
It doesn’t make sense.
If it’s a criminal offence to try to leave the country to fight for a foreign terrorist group, isn’t it a more serious crime when people actually fought for those terror groups?
The government is facing stiff questioning in Parliament on this issue. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hopeful most returnees can be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into peaceful Canadian society.
Canadians might more quickly agree with Goodale’s analysis that the chances of turning around someone who has actively engaged in terrorist activities in a war zone are “pretty remote.”
We are a welcoming country, especially towards desperate refugees — the victims of terror who fled here to escape ISIL.
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt accuses the government of welcoming ISIL returnees with open arms and putting the safety of all Canadians at risk; she says it’s unacceptable that the only justice ISIL fighters face back home is reintegration programs and support services. The government says it has deployed a full range of counter-terrorism tools aimed at returnees, including surveillance, criminal investigations, peace bonds and the revoking of passports. But such efforts fall short of holding terrorists to account.
The government should dedicate more resources to ensure any terrorist coming back to Canada is investigated and prosecuted. Of course, each case is different and must be judged accordingly. Each returnee must be considered innocent until proven guilty.
But certainly, those who pose a threat should be charged.
Any Canadian who breaks the law must expect to face the consequences of her or his actions.