Lawyers for the families of four Canadian men detained in northeastern Syria are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether the federal government has to repatriate them.

The men are among many foreign nationals in Syrian detention camps for suspected ISIS members and their families. The camps are run by the Kurdish forces that reclaimed the war-torn region from the extremist group.

In January, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ruled the four men were entitled to have the federal government make a formal request for their release “as soon as reasonably possible.”

Brown’s decision was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in May.

The families’ lawyers have now filed an application to have the case heard before Canada’s highest court.

“The issue of whether the Canadian government can refuse the invitation to take any steps to repatriate Canadians whose constitutional rights and freedoms continue to be violated is one of national importance,” Lawrence Greenspon, a lawyer for two of the men, said in a media statement.

Jack Letts, who has been imprisoned in Syria for more than four years after allegedly joining ISIS, is among the four men.

Jack Letts in Syria with a beard and long brown hair looking toward the camera, wearing cargo pants and a camouflaged shirt, pointing his index finger toward the camera.
Jack Letts is being detained by Kurdish authorities in a prison in northern Syria along the Turkish border. (Facebook)

Letts admitted in a 2019 interview to joining ISIS in Syria. His family says he made that admission under duress and there is no evidence that he ever fought for the group.

Sally Lane, Letts’ mother, said she wants the Supreme Court to uphold Brown’s original decision.

“Our only hope to see Jack again is for the Supreme Court to acknowledge that our son has the right to life and the right to return to his country of citizenship. Anything less is inhumane and against all Canadian values,” Lane said in a media statement.

Family members of Canadians detained in Syria — including the four men — have been asking the federal government to arrange for their return to Canada. They’ve argued that refusing to do so would violate their charter rights.

Prior to the January ruling, the government agreed to repatriate six women and 13 children from northeastern Syria. 

At least five of those women have returned — three in April and two in July — and were taken into police custody upon arrival. They have all been released pending terrorism peace bond applications.

A terrorism peace bond allows a judge to order a defendant to maintain good behaviour — sometimes with conditions, such as a curfew — or face a prison sentence.

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