Canada hasn't added any of its 'terrorist travellers' to UN sanctions list

Canada has failed to provide any names to an ISIS and al-Qaeda sanctions list maintained by the UN. The list was created in 2015, and includes a travel ban and an asset freeze for anyone on it.

'Where is Canada in terms of supporting our major allies, leading by example and doing the right thing?'

Calgary resident Farah Mohamed Shirdon is on the Interpol wanted list and has been charged in Canada in absentia with terrorism-related offences. (YouTube)

The Canadian government insists it's using "all available tools" to find, detain and convict citizens who have travelled overseas for the purposes of terrorism, but it hasn't submitted a single name to the UN committee that maintains a sanctions list of international jihadists.

UN Resolution 2253 encourages all member states to actively submit the names of individuals and entities that support ISIS and al-Qaeda.

British, French, German and American citizens all figure among the 256 individuals on the list. Arab countries have provided the majority of the names, but many other countries including Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Bosnia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Indonesia and the Philippines have also listed citizens. Even the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has a citizen on the list.

But there are no Canadians. Some other countries that have seen citizens leave on jihad, including Sweden and Belgium, have also not responded to Resolution 2253. 

When a country lists an individual, he or she is issued a permanent reference number to assist countries in identifying them. Their description, aliases, known addresses and associations, and identity documents are published as Interpol "special notices," with instructions to all states to "prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of these individuals."

The resolution also requires all countries to freeze any assets belonging to individuals on the list.

At Ottawa's request, Interpol has issued "red notices" for seven Canadians accused of involvement in jihadist extremism including Farah Shirdon, John Maguire and Khadar Khalib. But unlike the Interpol notices issued for those on the UN list, the public Interpol notices issued for the seven Canadians don't include passports, birth certificates, past addresses, or details about their suspected activities.

Public Interpol notices for UN-listed individuals also include aliases, typically several for each individual. Ottawa-born Khadar Khalib used the alias Abdul Baqi Hanif as an ISIS fighter, but that name is not on his Interpol notice. None of the seven Canadian public notices includes an alias.

The government has estimated that about 180 people have left Canada for terrorist purposes and not returned. 

'Designated global terrorist'

Some Canadians who've joined groups in Iraq and Syria have risen to prominence in the jihadist world, but they still haven't been listed by their own country with the UN.

Farah Shirdon, a Calgary man who joined ISIS in 2014, was declared a "specially designated global terrorist" by the U.S., which described him as "a prominent ISIS fighter and recruiter" who was also involved in fundraising. He appeared in a video filmed in Syria where he threatened Canada and burned his Canadian passport.

The U.S. government says it believes it killed Shirdon in an airstrike in Mosul, but the RCMP says it hasn't seen compelling proof that he's dead.

Tarek Sakr, a 30-year-old former pharmacology student from Montreal, was also named a specially designated global terrorist by the U.S. after he joined al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda. 

The RCMP believes Khadar Khalib went to fight for ISIS in Syria or Iraq. Canada hasn't added his name to the UN sanctions list that targets international jihadists. (CBC)

"Regardless of which names appear on the UN lists," said Public Safety Canada spokesperson Andrew Gowing, "Canada has a number of domestic tools in place to address terrorism and extremist travellers."

He said Canada maintains its own list of terrorist entities, which helps law enforcement to prosecute terrorists and their supporters. When an entity is put on the list, he said, banks and financial institutions freeze its assets and Canadians are "not allowed to knowingly deal with such assets."

But non-Canadians are far less likely to see a Canadian list than the UN list.

And Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said many of the Canadians who travelled to Iraq and Syria are now likely to move on to third countries, rather than return to Canada.

It shows that Canada has been a follower, not a leader, when it comes to driving global intelligence exchange.-  Christian Leuprecht, Royal Military College

That makes international lists all the more important, says Christian Leuprecht of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

"In places where there are virtually no functioning state institutions, or states where we simply can't trust the intelligence exchange, or countries that won't talk to each other, like Morocco and Algeria, or Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is a way of overcoming those collective action problems," he said.

"You get the worst offenders on the lists precisely so they can't exploit those ... problems to try to make their way through the region."

A 'follower, not a leader'

Leuprecht says Canada has other mechanisms it may be using more effectively such as the Five Eyes intelligence group, which also includes the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

But he says that's not a reason to neglect the UN list, which has been important in getting countries that aren't traditionally co-operative to provide information on their most dangerous citizens.

Nor would it help in cases where Canadian extremists fleeing Iraq and Syria try to cross into neighbouring countries that aren't privy to Five Eyes intelligence.

"There are countries here that are leading by example: the Americans, the British, the French, the Germans. Where is Canada in terms of supporting our major allies, leading by example and doing the right thing?" he said.

"It shows that Canada has been a follower, not a leader, when it comes to driving global intelligence exchange. And for a government that purports to be multilateralist and working through the UN, at a minimum you'd expect Canada to put some names on the list."


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 25 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.