Court temporarily stays order to repatriate four Canadians from Syria, pending appeal
OTTAWA — A Federal Court ruling that ordered the government to repatriate four Canadian men being held in Syrian camps has been put on temporary hold until an appeal process plays out.
The Federal Court of Appeal has agreed to grant a stay, at the government's request, until the appeal is heard less than two weeks from now.
The government has argued that it does not have an obligation to repatriate the Canadians, but it has agreed to bring home six women and 13 children who were part of the same legal challenge.
Ottawa is still required to get the process started by initiating contact with the Kurdish forces who are detaining the men in a region they reclaimed from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The ruling says the government alleged serious harm could result from doing any more than that until a final decision is made in the case.
It says that, on balance, the possible repercussions for national security and the safety of people involved in repatriation efforts outweigh the harm the men are still suffering while in detention.
"The panel will endeavour to render judgment as quickly as possible," says the unanimous Tuesday ruling, written by judge David Stratas.
"There may be additional harm suffered by the respondents as a result of the delay but that delay will be short."
The ruling notes that the government has reported encountering "obstacles" in its early attempts to make formal requests for the four Canadians' release.
Because of that, the ruling says that even if the stay had been denied, it's not clear whether there would be "any practical effect" on the situation.
Without the stay, the government might be forced to take "irreversible or harmful" steps that it would not take if the upcoming appeal is allowed, the ruling says.
Still, Stratas writes that the order to proceed with those requests is firm: "There will be serious ramifications if it is later found that the appellants have manipulated the situation and played for time."
In the January ruling, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown said the Canadian men held in Syria are entitled to have a representative of the government travel there to facilitate their release.
Their return home has been hampered by the lack of a formal request by the Canadian government for their repatriation, Brown's ruling said, arguing that they cannot enjoy "a truly meaningful exercise" of their Charter right to enter Canada.
He described the conditions of the camps where Canadians are held as "dire."
One of the four men is Jack Letts. His parents, John Letts and Sally Lane, have waged a public campaign demanding the Canadian government come to his aid.
They and other families have argued that the government is violating their fundamental rights, including the right to be tried by the Canadian legal system if any charges are brought against them, by not facilitating their safe return.
The four men and 19 women and children who were part of the legal action are not the only Canadians being held in Syria. It is unclear whether the outcome of this case will affect the government's approach to the others.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.
The Canadian Press