Politics

Canadian woman freed from ISIS detention camp reunites with daughter in Canada

A Canadian woman who was held in an ISIS detention camp in northeast Syria has arrived back in Canada to reunite with her five-year-old daughter — who was allowed to leave ahead of her last spring in the company of a former U.S. diplomat.

She does not face charges, but a peace bond imposes restrictions on her activities

Women walk with their children in the al-Roj detention camp. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

A Canadian woman who was held in an ISIS detention camp in northeast Syria has arrived back in Canada to reunite with her five-year-old daughter — who was allowed to leave ahead of her last spring in the company of a former U.S. diplomat.

The woman left Canada in 2014. She said she never intended to join the Islamic State extremist group as it was trying to establish a caliphate across Syria and Iraq.

The 30-year-old woman was met by RCMP officers upon her arrival in Canada on Monday. She surrendered herself to them and agreed to sign an undertaking that imposes restrictions on her activities until the federal government can formally invoke a so-called "terrorism" peace bond. That bond hearing likely will take place in January. 

Her Ottawa-based lawyer, Paul Champ, said his client was not charged with any crime and he doesn't anticipate charges.

"It was a really wonderful reunion," said Champ. "Her daughter was giggling and hugging her and really wouldn't let go.

"My client has told me that she hasn't felt this safe in years."

CBC News has agreed not to identify the woman, her daughter or their location because of safety concerns.

Last March, while she was still detained in Syria, the woman made the decision to turn her daughter over to the custody of former American diplomat Peter Galbraith and her relatives. The child has since been living in Canada with her aunt and other family members.

Galbraith — who has connections with Global Affairs Canada as well as the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds — helped to secure the woman's release from the Al Roj camp near Syria's borders with Turkey and Iraq.

The group Human Rights Watch provided this photo of the Canadian girl after she escaped a detention camp for family members of Islamic State suspects in northeast Syria. (Submitted by Human Rights Watch)

After arriving in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the woman applied last June for an emergency Canadian passport in order to return home but was left in limbo until just recently.

She had to sue the federal government in Federal Court to get the passport.

"We don't have answers on why Canada barred her return," sad Champ. "If they had grounds to charge her they could have done that when she was in the bounds of Canadian territory. None of that is a reason or excuse to bar citizens from entering Canada."

The woman spoke to the RCMP prior to her return.

WATCH: The Canadian mothers inside an ISIS detention camp

The Canadian mothers inside an ISIS detention camp

9 months ago
2:10
As word spreads in the al-Roj Syrian detention camp for families of ISIS fighters that a four-year-old Canadian girl was freed, other mothers grapple with sending their own children to safety. Some say they couldn't survive without them, while others beg Canada to bring them to safety. 2:10

Nearly 800 families of suspected ISIS militants — over 2,600 people in total — are still living in the Al Roj camp. About 30 of them are Canadians, mostly young children.

In an interview with CBC News last spring, the woman — who left Canada at the age of 23 — described herself as naive and easily led by others. She insists she was a housewife, not a militant, and that she knew she'd made a mistake as soon as she'd crossed the border into Syria.

Since the collapse of ISIS a few years ago, the Canadian government has refused to send its diplomats to the various camps where suspected ISIS family members are being held, citing security reasons.

'Shameful'

"It's our view [that] under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to enter Canada is practically an absolute right," said Champ.

"It's really unfortunate my client had to endure a long separation from her daughter. It's really disappointing and shameful, in my view, that our government was treating her this way."

In an affidavit filed in Federal Court as part of the lawsuit, the woman said she crossed into Syria in September of 2014 after being convinced a few months earlier to go to Turkey.

"Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had been manipulated into going to that country," the woman claimed in the affidavit.

"While in Syria, there were several times that I tried to leave, but I was not allowed to do so. I was moved around numerous times. I was not allowed to speak to my family or friends. My phone was taken away. I was completely isolated from the outside world."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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