Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he’s expecting Canadian Daesh fighters to either return home or continue the fight online following the militant fighters’ recent defeat in Raqqa, Syria.
However, Canada and other countries are struggling to shift the intelligence they’ve gathered on Daesh fighters into hard evidence that could be used in the courts to prosecute those who do come home.
“This is an issue that is bedevilling countries around the world in terms of how you actually move from intelligence to evidence and make a case stick,” Goodale said on CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
Despite there being roughly 60 Canadians who have returned home after fighting with Daesh, he said the government has laid few charges.
“Two charges have been started by (the current government) in the two years that we’ve been in office,” Goodale said.
Other countries have moved outside the courts to address the issue of their nationals fighting alongside the militants.
“The U.S., the U.K., and France – allies – say they’ll hunt them down and kill them on the battlefield,” host Evan Solomon noted.
Goodale said that’s not an option for Canada, as there is no longer a clear battlefield on which to target Canadians fighting for Daesh. “The battlefield has largely moved on.”
When asked if there were instances when Canadians fighting for Daesh were targeted on the battlefield or if allies were asked to do so, Goodale was evasive.
“I have issued ministerial directives to all of the security agencies that come under my jurisdiction that lay out exactly how our agencies are to behave in sharing information so that Canada’s international obligations and our rules against torture and so forth are properly respected,” he said.
With the judicial system struggling to lay charges, rehabilitation may be another option. However, Goodale said that’s also a difficult process once radicalized Canadians have stepped onto the battlefield.
“You have to prevent the problem before it exists. Once a person has been in a war zone, once they’ve been actively engaged in terrorist-related activities, the capacity to turn them around is pretty remote.”
He added: “That’s why you have to use the other tools, including collecting the evidence and prosecuting, wherever and whenever you can.”
While turning that into a prosecution can be challenging, it’s worth noting the numbers of fighters returning home have not increased hugely over the last two years.
“The number has remained static over that period of time,” Goodale said.