(Ottawa) The Supreme Court will not hear the case of four Canadians detained in Syria who argue Ottawa has a legal obligation to help them return home.
The mother of one of the men said after the verdict that she was not ready to give up, but added that it was difficult to remain hopeful.
The Canadians are among many foreigners held in squalid prisons in northern Syria run by Kurdish forces that recaptured the civil war-ravaged region from the Islamic State armed group.
The four men asked the Supreme Court to hear their challenge to a Federal Court of Appeal decision in May that concluded Ottawa had no legal obligation to send them back.
Among them: Jack Letts, who became a devout Muslim as a teenager, vacationing in Jordan, then studying in Kuwait before ending up in Syria. The identities of the other three Canadians will not be released.
As usual, the court on Thursday gave no reason for refusing to hear the case.
In a petition filed in the country’s highest court, lawyers for the four men argued that Ottawa “selected” Canadians to get out of a hellish situation.
They argued that the four men’s foreign prison guards would release them if Canada requested it and facilitated their repatriation, as it had done with some Canadian women and children who had returned to the country.
The four men were arbitrarily detained for several years without charge or trial, the lawyers said in their brief submitted to the country’s highest court.
“They are being held in extremely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and at least one Canadian is being held in a six-person cell with 30 other men. They lack adequate food and medical care, and one of the applicants reported to Canadian government officials that he had been tortured. »
Last January, the four men won a first bout in their long battle. Federal Court Judge Henry Brown ordered Ottawa to request their repatriation as quickly as possible and to urgently provide them with passports or travel documents.
Judge Brown also ruled that the men had the right to have a federal government representative travel to Syria to assist in their release once the kidnappers agreed to hand them over to Canadian authorities.
The Canadian government then argued that Judge Brown had mistakenly confused citizens’ right to enter Canada, recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the right to return to the country, thereby creating a new right of citizens, according to the government to be brought home.
The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with this argument, stating that Justice Brown’s interpretation “requires the Canadian government to take positive, even risky steps, including steps abroad,” to facilitate men’s right to enter Canada.
The appeal judges concluded that their decision “should not deter the Government of Canada from making its own efforts to achieve that result,” even if the government was not required by the Constitution or law to repatriate these men.
“Not the same rights as everyone else”
Sally Lane, Mr Letts’ mother, said in August that her son was “barely hanging on”. She then argued that “he and other Canadian citizens had to endure something that no human being should ever have to endure.”
On Thursday, she expressed her frustration.
“Global Affairs Canada will not meet with me. My own MP won’t listen to me. And now the Supreme Court has told me and other families that we don’t have the same rights as everyone else,” Ms. saidMe Lane in a statement from the group Ending Canada’s Participation in Torture.
By refusing to hear this case, the court essentially declared that it was acceptable for Canada to engage in illegal exile practices, indefinite arbitrary detention and torture, Ms. added.Me Roadway.
“We are not giving up, but today it is difficult to maintain hope when my son and other men, other women and children who are still incarcerated are told that their lives have no meaning.” »
Lawyers for the four men submitted to the Supreme Court that it has the opportunity to decide whether Canada has a duty under the Charter to assist Canadians abroad when they are facing flagrant human rights abuses.
In its own filing with the Supreme Court, the Canadian government claimed that no one disputed that the men’s conditions were deplorable. But if they can’t enter Canada, it’s because they’re being held abroad by foreign kidnappers, the government argued.
“The Federal Court of Appeal applied established legal principles and Charter interpretation to undisputed findings of fact,” the government said.
“In particular, if Canada does not participate in the detention of a Canadian citizen in a foreign country, there may be no obligation for Canada to secure his release and proceed with his repatriation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. »
The court’s decision sends a dangerous message that the Canadian government can simply abandon citizens in prisons rife with disease and death indefinitely and without due process, said Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch.
“But the Trudeau government doesn’t need a court order to bring these Canadians home, it simply needs to have the courage and political will to save their lives before it’s too late,” he said. – she said in a press release on Thursday.
“It is past time for Canada to take the urgent steps necessary to repatriate all Canadian citizens, regardless of gender or age, still detained in northeastern Syria in inhumane and degrading conditions. At home, adults may be monitored or prosecuted if necessary. »
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