Terrorism hoax case unlikely to change Liberals' ISIS repatriation policy, says expert
Ontario man charged after allegedly lying about involvement with militant group
The case of a Burlington, Ont., man who allegedly lied about his involvement with ISIS is unlikely to change how Canada deals with the repatriation of citizens who joined the militant group, says a former national security lawyer with the Department of Justice.
"I think it'll just ... further entrench the policy that the Liberal government has of ignoring the problem, putting the problem on the victims [Canadians former ISIS members detained in Syria]," said Leah West, a lecturer at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
"The Liberal government seems to not have a real political impetus to change its position," she told The Current. "It would have to do so because it's the right thing to do, and I'm very skeptical that's going to happen."
Canada does not have an embassy in Syria, and the Liberal government has said it will not put consular officials' lives in danger in order to collect evidence and bring ISIS fighters home for trial.
On Friday, RCMP arrested and charged 25-year-old Shehroze Chaudhry with hoax-terrorist activity after he allegedly pretended he had been an enforcer with ISIS in Syria. Chaudhry claimed to have committed execution-style killings for the militant group, and said he suffered from PTSD and night sweats.
His interviews with the media sparked questions in the House of Commons in 2018 about whether the Liberal government was doing enough to protect Canadians from ISIS fighters returning to the country. At the time, former public safety minister Ralph Goodale refused to speak about Chaudhry's case, saying police and security officials were taking all necessary steps to "keep Canadians safe."
Chaudhry later retracted his story about taking part in any killings, saying he made it all up.
CBC News reached out to Chaudhry, but did not hear back.
Canadians 'don't want these people back'
In June, Human Rights Watch reported that 47 Canadian citizens — including 26 children — were being held in camps and prisons controlled by Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, and accused the Canadian government of ignoring its international human rights obligations by failing to repatriate and provide those detainees with adequate consular assistance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by saying the government would "support Canadians in difficulty overseas," but that repatriating Canadians with alleged ties to terrorism is "more complicated."
Mubin Shaikh, a professor of public safety at Seneca College and a former CSIS RCMP operative, noted Canadians who are being held overseas for their role in ISIS are living in poor conditions.
But while those former ISIS members have rights in this country, Canadians "don't want these people back," said Shaikh, who also counselled Chaudhry in an effort to deradicalize him.
"Unfortunately, the public sees what ISIS has done in the world," he said. "I mean, let us not forget the victims, the Yazidis who were raped and genocided, and others."
Shaikh said he doesn't think the Liberal government is willing to risk its political power for those detainees either.
'Exceptionally challenging' case
The Current reached out to RCMP about the case, but did not receive a response.
However, an RCMP superintendent who is part of the team that arrested Chaudhry told CBC News that the police agency takes hoaxes "very seriously." Not only do they create fear and an illusion of potential harm to Canadians, but they divert resources from other important issues, he said.
West said it will be an "exceptionally challenging" case for Crown prosecutors, because they will need to prove several things in order to get a conviction.
"First, that [Chaudhry] conveyed false information and that he conveyed that false information intentionally to create fear, and fear of death, bodily harm or property damage, resulting from a terrorist activity," West explained.
Prosecutors would also have to demonstrate that what Chaudhry said actually caused people to believe terrorist activities could hurt Canadians, she said.
"This will be part of why it'll be so interesting to see how the charges are actually presented in court and how the Crown tries to prove this case," West said.
"Because if I'm his defence counsel, the first thing I'm making them all do is lay their cards on the table about why they know and how they know it's a lie."
Chaudhry is expected to appear in court on Nov. 16.
Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Elizabeth Hoath and Samira Mohyeddin.