Canadian government begins invalidating passports of citizens who have left to join extremist groups
The government has begun invalidating the passports of Canadians who have left to join extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander revealed in an interview on Friday, the National Post reported.
The minister told the National Post his department had also revoked the passports of several Canadians who had not yet left the country but who had intended to travel to the volatile region to enlist as foreign fighters.
He would not disclose the number of passports Citizenship and Immigration Canada had revoked over the conflict but said there were "multiple cases." The government says about 30 Canadians are with extremist groups in Syria and 130 are active elsewhere.
"Yes, I think it's safe to say that there are cases of revocation of passports involving people who've gone to Syria and Iraq already," Mr. Alexander said. "I just don't want to get into the numbers, but multiple cases."
The action means Canadian fighters in Syria and Iraq may effectively be stranded there. Their passports are no longer valid and therefore cannot be used to return to Canada. Nor could they be used to travel elsewhere.
This week the Post revealed the identity of another Canadian with the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS). Mohammed Ali, a 23-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., left Canada in April and later wrote online about playing soccer with severed heads.
Other Canadians allegedly with ISIS and similar extremist groups in the region include Hasibullah Yusifzai of Burnaby, B.C., and Calgary's Farah Shirdon, who this week threatened attacks on the United States, before Twitter suspended his account.
Mr. Alexander said while they were few in number, he was troubled that Canadians had joined ISIS, which has been committing widespread atrocities in an attempt to impose its militant version of Islamic law on Syrians and Iraqis.
"We are not by any means the leading contributor of foreign fighters to Syria, even though the dozens that are there and the 130 that are abroad [with other extremist groups] is a disturbing number for all Canadians. But we want to ensure that Canada's good name is not besmirched by these people any more than it already has been and that Canadians are protected."
Measures to staunch the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria are among the strategies Canada and its allies have adopted to degrade ISIS. On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the United Nations Security Council, which met to discuss the situation in Iraq, that ISIS was a "terrorist army" that had blended "medieval ideology" with modern weapons. "We must also reject their nihilistic worldview wherever we find it," he said.
Hours before he spoke, ISIS released an hour-long propaganda video intended to discourage an international military campaign against the group. It included footage of André Poulin, a troubled Muslim convert from Timmins, Ont., who died in Syria in August 2013.
It also showed a masked gunman standing before captured Syrian troops digging their own graves. After speaking in what sounded like North American - possibly Canadian - English, he appeared to help execute the kneeling prisoners with a handgun.
The participation of Canadians in ISIS has become a key focus of the government in recent months, and while the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service have the lead roles, Mr. Alexander's department, which includes Passport Canada, has also been actively involved.
The minister said the department was making use of existing regulations that allow officials to revoke or deny a passport when there is evidence a Canadian intends to use it to travel abroad to commit crimes, in this case terrorism.
"When law enforcement and security agencies provide us with that evidence, as they have done, we are able to act," he said. So far that has taken place "in multiple cases" against those attempting to join extremists in Syria, he said.
"I can't really get into how many, [or] how many are under consideration right now. These are operational matters and security matters and we don't comment on them in detail, but this is a power that exists and that is being used."
The new citizenship law enacted in June also gave the government the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism. The power has not yet been put to use but the minister said it sends a message that those who join groups like ISIS will pay a heavy price: "You will cease being a Canadian because behaviour of this kind is incompatible with the duties and responsibilities of citizenship."
This week, Australian police broke up what they said was a plot directed by an Australian ISIS commander to behead a random citizen on video and drape the terrorist group's black flag over the body. The arrests highlighted concerns that foreign fighters could spread fanatical violence to their home countries, but Canada has fewer extremists in groups like ISIS than Australia and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Alexander said Canada's success at integrating newcomers was partly responsible. "That tends to create a very high level of allegiance and loyalty to Canada among the vast majority of immigrants, and we should be proud of that," he said.
"But the pull of this poisonous ideology from the Gulf, from some of the centres of preaching, Pakistan and elsewhere, where it's really anchored, is strong. And it's transmitted by the internet. So despite our success on immigration and settlement, we can't ignore this challenge."