As It Happens

Family of Canadian killed while fighting ISIS in Syria still searching for answers

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Canadian John Robert Gallagher was killed by an ISIS militant while fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces. His family is overwhelmed and left with many unanswered questions.
Canadian John Robert Gallagher travelled to Iraq in May 2015 to fight with Kurdish forces. Yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Gallagher was killed by an ISIS militant, while fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces. (Facebook)

Before John Robert Gallagher left Canada to fight ISIS he published a post on Facebook: "Why the War in Kurdistan Matters." In the essay he writes, "I'm prepared to give my life in the cause of averting the disaster we are stumbling towards as a civilization."

Yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Gallagher was killed by an ISIS militant while fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces. Gallagher is the second Canadian to die fighting ISIS. He was 32.

Shelagh Besley, Gallagher's aunt, tells As It Happens host Carol Off the family is overwhelmed and left with many unanswered questions. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Carol Off: Ms. Besley, first of all, I'm so sorry for your loss. How is your family holding up?

Shelagh Besley: Everyone is doing okay. We're all kind of in limbo and overwhelmed at the moment.

CO: What did [Gallagher] tell you about what he was going to be doing overseas?

SB: He believed very, very strongly in his convictions that enough wasn't being done to help. He believed it was in his power to help and he was willing to do whatever he could to help people and that's why he went. You know it's not really anything you can argue with. A lot of people have different views but very few people actually act on their convictions and I'm very proud of him for doing so.

(Facebook)

CO: He has very engaging posts on his Facebook. There's a curious one that I want to ask you about. He says, "I'll cross half the world to put a bullet in my fellow man. I'll skip dinner so I can feed a stray cat. Even I find my values strange sometimes." What does that tell you about him?

SB: He loved cats. He did, he loved cats. John Robert has very strong convictions and a very good sense of his right and wrong. But he is very, very caring and very loving. You know, a stray animal needs just as much help, and deserves help, as a person. The down-trodden, they need help and if we're in the position to help them, we should. That was John Robert. I mean he wasn't perfect, he had his faults just like everybody else but he definitely believed in trying to help people.

From John Robert Gallagher Facebook page: "I'll cross half the world to put a bullet in my fellow man. I'll skip dinner so I can feed a stray cat. Even I find my values strange sometimes." (Facebook)

SB: It's very hard. It's very overwhelming and you're left with a lot of questions but right now there's no concrete answers. We have no idea how long any process takes to bring him home, how long that will be. It's very hard when all you're left with is questions at this moment.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Besley says many of the details surrounding her nephew's death are still unclear. She confirms that Gallagher's mother, Valerie, was informed by the People's Protection Unit (Kurdish paramilitary force) that he was killed by a suicide bomb. According to Besley, Valerie has also been contacted by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs but the family is still waiting for further information and a formal identification.

To hear the full interview please click on the Listen audio link above.

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