2 women arrested in Canada after coming home from Syrian camp for ISIS fighters' families
2 women and 2 children were repatriated from northeast Syria, Global Affairs Canada confirms
Police have arrested two Canadian women and charged one with terrorism-related offences after the federal government repatriated them from a detention camp in Syria for ISIS fighters' family members.
The RCMP said it arrested Oumaima Chouay on terrorism charges Tuesday night at the Montréal-Trudeau airport upon her arrival in Canada.
Canadian Kimberly Polman was arrested after arriving in Montreal Wednesday morning and authorities are seeking a peace bond, said her lawyer.
Two children were also repatriated from a detention camp in northeast Syria during this latest Canadian operation, Global Affairs Canada confirmed.
The RCMP said Chouay, 27, has been under investigation since 2014 by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET). She is now facing four criminal charges, including participating in a terrorist group, leaving Canada to do so and making property or services available for terrorist purposes.
"According to the investigation, Ms. Chouay allegedly travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State terrorist group. In Syria, it is alleged that she participated in terrorist activities in the name of the Islamic State," said RCMP Insp. David Boudoin, who is the officer in charge of the INSET team in Montreal.
Chouay appeared in a Montreal court Wednesday afternoon where the crown objected to bail.
Marc Cigana with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said he feared the accused may not show up for court and there's "reasonable grounds" she "will commit a criminal offence or obstruct justice."
Authorities seeking peace bond for Polman
Police arrested Polman, 50, but did not lay charges.
She travelled to Syria in 2015 after marrying an ISIS fighter she met online.
Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon who is representing Polman and 22 other Canadian men, women and children who are being held in ISIS detention camps in northeastern Syria, said "the only thing I can surmise" is that police "do not have the same kind of evidence" against Polman as they do Chouay.
Leah West, a national security expert and professor at Carleton University, interviewed Polman in 2019 at al-Roj Syrian detention camp.
She said Polman is a dual Canadian-U.S. citizen who married a man who does have some ties to Canada, but travelled to ISIS territory from Trinidad.
"She told me that when she was there, both her and her husband became very disenchanted with the movement and had tried to escape and were actually imprisoned and punished for attempting to flee."
West said Polman told her she "did seriously regret the choices she made" and didn't want other women to do the same.
RCMP in B.C. sought a peace bond that said authorities have reasonable grounds to fear Polman may commit a terrorism offence, according to the court document obtained by CBC News.
Polman is being asked to enter into a "recognizance for a period not exceeding 12 months with the conditions fixed by the judge" and could be sentenced to up to a year in jail if she refuses, the court document said.
She remained in custody Wednesday night and is expected to appear in court Thursday in Chilliwack, B.C., for her bail hearing. Polman spoke briefly at court, noting she was exhausted and that she had hoped she would already be in hospital.
Greenspon said he believes Polman was repatriated in large part because of her failing health.
Video shows Canadian officials in Syria
Global Affairs said the United States helped with the government's operation.
"Canada thanks the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for its co-operation and recognizes its efforts in providing care for the detained individuals under an extremely difficult security situation and adverse circumstances," Global Affairs Canada said in a media statement to CBC News.
A video posted by a local media outlet online shows Canadian officials meeting in Rojava, Syria, with officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
Sébastien Beaulieu, an executive at Global Affairs Canada and former ambassador, is seen reading a statement on video on behalf of the Canadian government that was later posted to the government's official "Canada Syria" Twitter account. The head of the office for Syria based out of Canada's embassy in Lebanon is also seen on camera.
Global Affairs Canada declined CBC's request for an interview with Beaulieu.
Canada's position in the past has been that, for security reasons, it would not send consular assistance to meet these women, even though a number of other western countries have done so. France repatriated 40 children and 15 women from Kurdish-run camps in Syria last week.
Global Affairs Canada said that due to "operational security reasons," it "cannot share details of the repatriation" or the identities of those brought home.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser was asked by media if the government is only bringing back Canadians from the Kurdish-run camps if they're sick. Fraser said the circumstances are different in every case.
"If Canadians are travelling abroad and commit criminal behaviour, sometimes they're subject to the laws of the jurisdiction in which they're located," said Fraser. "In certain other examples, we deal with situations where the circumstances on the ground can become untenable for other reasons."
He said the government is closely monitoring what's happening in the camps in Syria to "ensure, should someone return having committed egregious criminal behaviour, that it's dealt with responsibly by law enforcement."
Canada also has helped to facilitate the repatriation of a five-year-old Canadian orphan in 2020 and a four-year-old girl and her mother in 2021.
Human Rights Watch estimates that before today, roughly four dozen Canadian men, women and children — most of them under the age of six — remained in detention camps in Syria.
Farida Deif, the Canada director at Human Rights Watch, said she hopes the latest round of repatriations signals the government is changing its policy and will bring others home. She called the government's approach piecemeal and said Canada is now an international outlier.
"Really the approach of the government thus far has been abysmal," said Deif.
"The prime minister has not wanted to spend any political capital to repatriate anyone with suspected ISIS ties and has essentially abandoned Canadians in conditions of unlawful detention, in inhumane and squalid conditions."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn't comment on any specific case but said supporting terrorism is a crime in Canada.
"Anyone who travelled for the purpose of supporting terrorism should face criminal charges," Trudeau told reporters Wednesday.
With files from Jason Proctor, Margaret Evans and Stephanie Jenzer