What should Canada do with foreign fighters who return home?

The conundrum of how to deal with foreign fighters coming back to Canada: it's not as easy as locking them up.
'The number released by CSIS two years ago was in the order of 60 (foreign fighters), and they have confirmed that that number remains essentially the same today,' Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons, Nov. 23, 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
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CSIS has confirmed 60 foreign fighters who have travelled abroad to join ISIS or other terror groups are now back and living in Canada, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale told the House of Commons last week.

The question of what do with these former ISIS fighters and supporters who live in the country now is an urgent one Canadians want answered — with no simple solution.

The resources involved for surveillance of these individuals is tremendous, says Phil Gurski, former strategic analyst at CSIS and author of Western Foreign Fighters.

"If all 60 came back tomorrow, you're looking at between 1,200 to 2,400 officers just to monitor the returning foreign fighter threat, and that's well beside the threat of other Canadians who may be radicalized to violence here."

Alberta Conservative MP Michelle Rempel asks the government about the number of ISIS returnees in Canada 1:09

One of the problems, Gurksi points out, for authorities is that to arrest anyone who returns to Canada, they would need evidence the person fought for a terrorist organization.

They'll be wanting to demonstrate that they've done wrong but ... wish to get back into Canadian society and lead a normal life.- Lorne Dawson of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism 

So without the options of prosecution and monitoring, director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Lorne Dawson suggests "we need to develop a logical alternative."

"We need to develop, as other countries are, programs by which we can seek to disengage them, start to rehabilitate them. And that's a more effective way of even trying to monitor them, is get them into some kind of program," Dawson says.

He tells Tremonti that most of these individuals were radicalized at a young age which he says is important to stress in this context.

"When they leave, they're not hardened individuals. They're really, I think, would be more accurately classified as seriously confused and challenged individuals. But also, you know, bright and capable guys who really want to do something. They want to change the world," Dawson says.

Terror in Canada is always a concern, but for some, the more pressing issue is deradicalizing foreign fighters who end up back in Canada. CBC News has learned the government knows little about how many have returned or who they even are, and there's no guarantee they'll accept government intervention 1:59

"The record shows from past conflicts that most to return will be in the disillusioned category. They'll be wanting to cooperate with officials. They'll be wanting to demonstrate that they've done wrong but ... wish to get back into Canadian society and lead a normal life."

Another possible solution?

If there's no sufficient evidence for an outright prosecution, law professor Craig Forcese suggests "employing what are known as peace bonds, which are limitations on liberty short of outright incarceration."

"And there's the prospect in both the peace bond context and then subsequently in relation to prosecution to focus on rehabilitation as well. And so these are not necessarily mutually exclusive alternatives."


This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli, Samira Mohyeddin and Vancouver network producer Anne Penman.