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2 Canadian women with children surrender to U.S.-backed forces in ISIS-held Syrian territory




Two Canadian women who had been living in ISIS-held territory with their children have surrendered to U.S.-backed forces in Syria, according to the head of a non-profit organization that urged them to turn themselves in.

Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE), told CBC News that one of the women, a mother with two children, contacted her over the weekend from the city of Baghuz as Syrian Democratic Forces approached the area. 

Baghuz, in eastern Syria near the Iraq border, is one of the last remaining pieces of land under the grip of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Global Affairs Canada said in an email statement to CBC News that it is “aware of Canadian citizens being detained in Syria,” but its ability to provide consular assistance is “extremely limited” given the security situation on the ground. 

“Canadian diplomats have established a communication channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts and well-being of Canadian citizens,” said government spokesperson Richard Walker. 

Bain, speaking on the phone from Fredericton, said the woman who contacted her said she was with a second Canadian woman who also has two children.

CBC News has been unable to independently verify the identities of the two women and their children.

FAVE, which works with families whose members have been exposed to or joined violent extremist groups overseas, says there may be as many as 27 Canadians being held in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria. 

‘Her final chance’

Bain said that over the course of her exchanges with the Canadian woman — conducted with a messaging service over a spotty internet connection — she learned the woman had virtually no idea about the dangerous political situation around her.

Bain described the woman as “uncertain” and “afraid.”

Leaving them there only feeds the ISIS narrative that the West hates Muslims, that the West hates Islam.– Alexandra Bain, Families Against Violent Extremism

Initially, the woman said she intended to walk to the nearest camp in Iraqi territory, said Bain, but she advised against it, saying many children had lost their lives on that cold walk and she would likely face punishment by death if apprehended by Iraqi forces.

Instead, Bain encouraged the woman to approach a Kurdish militia vehicle that would take her to Al Hol, a displacement camp in northeastern Syria — advice the Canadian woman heeded.

“She said she had been trying for the past seven months to escape ISIS with her children … I guess she saw it as her final chance,” Bain told CBC News by phone.

Alexandra Bain of FAVE told CBC News that one of the mothers, who has two children, contacted her over the weekend from Baghuz. Bain described her as ‘uncertain’ and ‘afraid.’ (CBC)

The FAVE director described the woman as sounding like she had been “in a bubble” and, “She would have only been getting news from ISIS over the past several years.”

The woman didn’t disclose her reasons for travelling to Syria, Bain said. 

“She just knew she wanted to get out.”

Unknown where women travelled from

Bain declined to disclose where the women were from in Canada, saying their names and stories would likely come to light should they be criminally investigated. It’s unclear why or how long the two women were living in Syria.

The researcher said that of the Canadians in ISIS territory, the majority are children who had no choice in their parents’ decision to go to Syria.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a Toronto-based senior research fellow with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told CBC News he knows of at least four men, five women and 11 Canadian children who are still in Kurdish custody in Syria. 

In many cases, those Canadians have left family members behind. Bain said every family she’s spoken with has found itself in that position and is “horrified.”

“It’s broken their hearts.”

Canada won’t immediately act to repatriate

News of the two Canadian women’s surrender comes just days after the U.S. State Department issued a statement calling on its allies to repatriate its citizens detained in the conflict — something Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News this week he would not risk Canadian lives to do.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed in a statement there is no agreement in place to repatriate the Canadians detained in Syria.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News this week he would not risk Canadian lives to bring foreign fighters or their families home. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Responding to reporters’ questions on Wednesday, Goodale said the government is “considering the best way forward to make sure that Canada and Canada’s national security are properly protected. We’ve heard the request or the suggestion from the United States. But at this point, the fact of the matter remains that is a dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world, in which we have no diplomatic presence.”

Bain argues Canada should act quickly, citing a UN special rapporteur who has said the Canadian government has a legal obligation to repatriate its citizens. 

She said leaving the Canadians in Syria also raises another problem. 

“Leaving them there only feeds the ISIS narrative that the West hates Muslims, that the West hates Islam,” Bain said. 

“Bringing these kids home, and healing them and allowing them to lead productive lives encourages them in the future to stand up against violent extremism — to be a voice against joining things like ISIS, and that’s really what we’re hoping for.”


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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa




With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV




A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence




Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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