(OTTAWA) A Federal Court ruling ordering Ottawa to repatriate four Canadians held in Syrian camps has been stayed pending appeal.
At the request of the government, the Federal Court of Appeal agreed to grant a stay of execution until the case is heard, in less than two weeks.
The government had argued at first instance that it had no obligation to repatriate the Canadians, but it agreed to repatriate six women and 13 children who were part of the same request.
Ottawa is still required to initiate the repatriation process by establishing contact with the Kurdish forces who are detaining the Canadians in an area they have recaptured from Daesh (armed group Islamic State).
The ruling underscores Ottawa’s view that the government could do more harm if it did more before a final decision is made on the case.
Ottawa argues that on balance, the possible impacts on national security and the safety of those involved in the repatriation efforts outweigh the harm these men still suffer in custody.
In its unanimous decision on Tuesday, written by Justice David Stratas, the Federal Court of Appeal said the three-judge panel will work to reach a judgment “as quickly as possible” in the case. “There may be additional prejudice suffered by the respondents as a result of the delay, but this delay will be short-lived,” the Court of Appeal assured.
The Court notes that the government reported “impediments” in its first attempts to formally request the release of the four Canadians. For this reason, the Court indicates that even if the suspension of the first instance judgment had been refused, it is not clear whether there would be a real impact on the situation of the detainees.
Without this stay, the government could be forced to take “irreversible or harmful” measures that it would not take if it were later successful on appeal, according to the Court.
Justice Stratas warned, however, that “there will be serious ramifications if the appellants [the government] are later found to have been playing for time.”
Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ruled in January that Canadians detained in Syria had the right to have a government official come in to facilitate their release.
Their repatriation was hampered by the absence of any official request from the Canadian government, Judge Brown said. He then argued that these Canadians could not enjoy “a truly meaningful exercise” of their right to enter Canada, guaranteed by the Charter. The judge also described as “appalling” the living conditions in the camps where these Canadians are detained.
One of the four men is Jack Letts. His parents, John Letts and Sally Lane, led a public campaign demanding that the Canadian government come to his aid. They and other families argued that by failing to facilitate their safe return, the government was violating their basic rights, including the right to be tried by the Canadian justice system if charges were brought against them.
The four men and 19 women and children who were part of the legal proceedings are not the only Canadians detained in Syria. It is unclear whether the outcome of this case will affect the government’s approach to other Canadian detainees.