Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued in a House of Commons debate Monday that it’s critical for the government to help Canadians who have returned after fighting for extremist groups to “disengage” from terrorist ideology like that of ISIS.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer declared “ISIS terrorists are criminals who fought against our country, but they are now being welcomed back to Canada by the prime minister with the promise of reintegration services to help them.”
“Canadians are shocked and alarmed that their government is not taking any steps to protect them. This is the No. 1 job of any government,” Scheer said. “Will the prime minister stand today and tell us exactly how many ISIS fighters have returned to Canada, and how many of those are currently in jail or under government surveillance?”
Trudeau responded that “one of the top priorities of any government is to ensure the safety and security of Canadians, and we ensure that every day.”
“Our national security agencies are combating the phenomenon of Canadians participating in terrorist activities overseas. We use a number of tools to address the threat posed by these individuals, including the passenger protect program; cancelling, revoking, or refusing passports; and laying criminal charges,” he said. “Our national security agencies are carefully monitoring these individuals, and our law enforcement agencies do the difficult work of collecting evidence required for convictions in Canadian courts.”
Scheer pushed Trudeau to describe “exactly what a program or reintegration service would look like for the people who commit these kinds of atrocities.”
“We recognize that the return of even one individual may have serious national security implications,” Trudeau replied. “We have launched the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, which helps to ensure that resources are in place to facilitate disengagement from violent ideologies. In particular, children who return from conflict zones require tailored—”
Scheer interjected that Trudeau finds it “so difficult” to support Yazidi victims of ISIS as Conservatives try to “help bring members of that community to Canada,” while “the prime minister is talking about reintegration services for the ISIS fighters who victimized those individuals.”
Trudeau shot back that Canada is “a welcoming country for victims of terrorism.”
“At the same time, we protect and defend all Canadians by monitoring anyone who is returning after being involved in conflict overseas,” the prime minister said. “We will be there to ensure that they are monitored and overseen. We will also be there to help them disengage from this terrorist ideology.”
MP Michelle Rempel, a Conservative, said Trudeau “hid the number of ISIS fighters who have returned here.”
“When asked about how he planned to manage this threat, he then said the government is there to help them let go of their terrorist ideology,” she said. “What he should have said is that there will be consequences when choosing to fight for a terrorist death cult.”
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale noted that “the number of returnees known to the government of Canada is in the order of 60, and they are under very careful investigation.” About 180 Canadians are known to have joined terrorist groups outside the country.
Goodale has previously said that Canada would not have “death squads or assassination plots” against Canadians who joined ISIS. Trudeau’s government has opposed stripping terrorists of their Canadian citizenship.
Conservative lawmaker Pierre Paul-Hus called it “downright insulting” that “60 ISIS fighters have returned to Canada, after having fought Canadian soldiers and our allies.”
“Now, the minister’s office is telling us that appropriate support is needed to disengage and reintegrate foreign terrorist travelers and their families. Unbelievable,” he said. “Does the minister realize that it is his job to keep Canadians safe and not to make these murderers feel better?”