Volunteer fighters not likely to be banned from terror hotspots
Volunteer fighters are now part of the growing list of Canadians who will likely not be affected by a proposed travel ban to certain regions of the globe deemed hotspots for “terror tourism.”
On the campaign trail last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a re-elected Conservative government would curb homegrown extremism by imposing bans only on “the most dangerous places on earth,” but added journalists, diplomats, humanitarians and aid workers would be exempted.
Conservative spokesman Stephen Lecce said the ban will also not apply to Canadian citizens who have actively fought the Islamic State abroad.
“The legislation is not intended to prosecute individuals who can prove they have been working with groups fighting against ISIS or other enemies of Canada. Nevertheless, declared areas will be considered very dangerous and Canadians should avoid all travel to such areas. We discourage mercenary activity, and encourage any Canadians who are interested in fighting ISIS to join the Canadian Armed Forces,” Lecce wrote in an email to the Sun.
Lecce suggested the government would rely on groups such as CSIS to gather intelligence about Canadians traveling to and from areas outlawed by the ban. But people fighting with the Kurds would technically not be affected by the proposed law.
So far, the exact location of any future ban hasn’t been discussed yet. But analysts expect regions of Syria and Iraq would be prime targets for a ban.
“Canadians who have travelled to declared areas who then attempt to re-enter Canada or travel to countries with which Canada has extradition treaties will be investigated,” wrote Lecce.
He said if people aren’t able to provide a legitimate reason for being in banned areas, they could be charged with a criminal offence under the new policy.
According to a leading legal professor, Kent Roach, the travel ban is based on a law passed in Australia last year.
“The Australian law has been used for a person who is alleged to have wanted to fight for the Kurds. We would apparently make an exemption for such fighting,” he said, adding there’s a number of issues with drafting and implementing a travel ban where a number of exemptions exist.
“Attempting to select sides (good guys, bad guys) are tricky in a criminal law,” he said. “The essence of the rule of law is that it should apply to all, and not pick sides or enemies. It is fine to pick enemies when you are fighting a war but law is meant to be a more impartial instrument.”
Roach isn’t the only expert questioning the Tories’ proposal.
Craig Forcese, a legal expert known for his writing on national security, said in an online commentary, that it’s sometimes difficult to tell who the “good guys” are in unstable regions of the globe.
For example, certain militia groups (such as the Kurdish PKK) are fighting the Islamic State but are themselves considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.
Forcese was critical of the government’s proposal because the government is not trying to regulate when and how Canadians can become entangled in a conflict “regardless of the terrorism angle.”
“Unlike in Australia, our officials cannot say ‘it is illegal to fight in Syria period,'” Forcese wrote, adding that among other things, foreign fighters could get captured and endanger the lives of Canadian Forces members tasked to retrieve them.
While the proposed law is a long way away from being discussed in a courtroom, Forcese also mused that a possible ban may justifiably violate Canadian’s constitutional mobility rights.
“It’s not clear to me that the (right) includes the ‘right to leave Canada and go to a war zone of your choosing’,” he wrote.