The House

Caliphate podcast shifted debate on repatriation: expert

It’s time for a conversation about bringing Canadians back from Syria that's based on facts, says national security expert Leah West.

Canada has duty and capacity to bring back its citizens, says Leah West

The man known as Abu Huzaifa, at the centre of the New York Times’ podcast Caliphate, was arrested in September and faces hoax terrorism charges. The reaction to his story in 2018 shifted the debate in Canada away from repatriating detained fighters and their families, says Leah West. (John Lancaster/CBC)

In 2018, a Canadian claimed in the New York Times' podcast Caliphate that he had travelled to Syria to fight with ISIS, had carried out executions before returning to Canada, and was free in Toronto.

That report sparked outrage and shock across the country and on Parliament Hill.

Late last month, the RCMP arrested the man at the centre of the podcast and accused him of lying about his involvement with ISIS.

But the reaction to the podcast marked a significant shift in the debate over how, and whether, Canada should bring detained ISIS fighters and their families back to this country, said Leah West.

The Carleton University lecturer and national security expert spoke with Chris Hall on The House, arguing that Canada has both the responsibility and the capacity to repatriate the dozens of Canadians — many of them children — still in Syrian camps.

West said the release of the Caliphate podcast and the ensuing reaction caught the public's attention and changed the federal government's approach to the issue. Now, she said, it's time for a debate based on facts.

"This individual who said that they committed egregious crimes has been alleged to have made it all up. So we need to have a new conversation and it needs to be one based on the actual facts," she said.

Listen to the full segment here:

Carleton University lecturer and national security expert Leah West talks about how the release of the New York Times’ podcast “Caliphate” and the revelation that a self-avowed ISIS killer was walking free in Toronto may have shifted Canadian foreign policy. 9:31