The RCMP is preparing for the return of at least a dozen Canadians detained in Syria amidst the collapse of the so-called Islamic State, a senior law enforcement official has told Global News.
The capture of suspected Canadian ISIS members, and uncertainty over their fate due to a planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, has prompted the RCMP to ramp up preparations for their possible arrival.
As part of a national strategy now being put in place, police are working with prosecutors to prepare charges and peace bonds against the detainees, and speaking with allies to manage their return to Canada.
“We need to get ready in case they come back sooner than what we had expected,” Deputy Commissioner Gilles Michaud, who heads the RCMP’s federal policing branch, said in an interview Wednesday.
In recent weeks, the SDF has taken more Canadians into custody around the last pocket of ISIS territory in northeast Syria, forcing the RCMP to rethink its assumption that they were unlikely to come back.
The United States has encouraged countries to repatriate and prosecute their captured ISIS members, while the United Kingdom has taken a different approach, cancelling their citizenship.
Canada’s stated policy is that the government could do nothing because the detainees were in what Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called a “dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world” where Ottawa had no diplomatic presence.
© (Global News) Muhammad Ali, 28, left Toronto in 2014 to join ISIS and was captured by Kurdish forces as he tried to flee.
But behind the scenes, the RCMP is working “all hands on deck” to get ready, Michaud said, adding the Mounties were helping local police forces and federal agencies gear up to deal with the returnees.
“The reason why we’re doing all of this is because any information on any individual that could pose a threat to Canadians, we will investigate fully,” said Michaud, who oversees the RCMP’s national security branch.
“But it may take time,” he said. “We may not be in a position, as each and every one of them comes back to Canada, that we’re at that stage where we can arrest them.”
The RCMP’s National Security Joint Operations Centre is at the centre of the returnee plan. Based in Ottawa, it shares information about foreign fighters with federal departments and international allies.
The government has cancelled the passports of known foreign fighters, meaning they must get new ones from a Canadian diplomatic post — a system that alerts the RCMP so it can direct their return.
The Canadian detainees leaving Syria are likely to cross into Turkey, Michaud said. As a result, the RCMP is talking with Turkish authorities about allowing the detainees to transit through to Canada rather than putting them on trial in Turkish courts.
The RCMP is also encouraging Turkey not to question the Canadians about their roles in ISIS or search their electronic devices, since that could taint the evidence needed to successfully prosecute them in Canada.