A former Canadian soldier being held in Iraq is in good health and Canadian Embassy officials are working to win his release, federal cabinet minister Judy Foote confirmed Monday.
Foote, the senior minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador, spoke to Mike Kennedy’s mother in Newfoundland earlier in the day, said press secretary Jessica Turner.
Kay Kennedy told radio station VOCM her son was arrested in Erbil in northern Iraq while taking part in what she called a humanitarian mission. She said she was speaking with him on Tuesday evening, when she realized something was wrong.
“He wasn’t his upbeat self,” she told VOCM. “He was very abrupt in his answers to me. Then, all of a sudden, he said, ‘Mum, I gotta go.”‘
The woman told VOCM she hasn’t heard from her son since then, but she said a friend of his later confirmed via text message from northern Iraq that her son had been arrested after returning from a mission in northern Syria.
Kay Kennedy told the radio station it appeared there was a problem with some documents, suggesting some had expired. She said she was sure her son’s visa was good until January.
The stress of having a son in a war zone is nothing new for Kennedy.
On April 8, 2007, her son Kevin was one of six Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan when their light armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb. The six were all members of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
“It’s not easy, especially after losing a son in 2007 in Afghanistan,” she said. “I haven’t been sleeping, just pacing the floors. I’m strong. I’m not falling apart … I’m doing what I got to do to get my son out of there.”
Global Affairs Canada told The Canadian Press it was aware of a Canadian citizen being detained in Iraq, and spokeswoman Kristine Racicot confirmed in an email that Canadian officials are providing consular assistance and are in contact with local authorities.
However, Racicot said she could not disclose more details because of privacy considerations.
Racicot said Global Affairs Canada is advising against all non-essential travel to Iraq, including the provinces under the control of the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq. The department said the security situation in Erbil and a few other towns “could deteriorate quickly.”
“All Canadians who travel to Syria and Iraq must do so at their own personal risk,” the email said. “Due to the unpredictable security situation, providing consular assistance in all parts of Iraq and Syria is severely limited.”
Kennedy is believed to be among hundreds of foreign volunteers, including other Canadians, assisting Kurdish forces in the area.
In October, former Canadian soldier Dillon Hillier released a book in which he recounts the three months he spent in a volunteer effort accompanying the Kurdish army in a series of battles against the Islamic State in northern Iraq.
The veteran said he headed to the front lines because he was horrified by headlines showing the havoc wreaked by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, including the capturing of Yazidi women as sex slaves, and a violent campaign of rape, torture and killing.
Hillier, who served a tour in Afghanistan as a corporal in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, also said he was stunned by the fact that about 90 Canadian citizens were, at the time, “participating in these atrocities.”
“That made me think: ‘OK, I may be able … to at least show people, the Kurds and everyone, that there are Canadians willing to do the right thing as well _ even though they’re not being asked to,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press after “One Soldier” was published.
Canada deployed special forces troops to work with Kurdish forces in October 2014.
During the federal election campaign in the summer and fall of 2015, the Liberals promised to end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq.
Once in power, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau withdrew six CF-18 fighter jets previously deployed by the Conservatives, but he also expanded the number of troops on the ground to more than 200 from 69.
At the same time, there has been a clampdown on information about the mission with fewer briefings.
Last month, the Liberal government faced fresh accusations of misleading the public after the country’s top soldier, chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, said Canadian troops have been allowed to fire first in Iraq. Government and military officials have previously said Canadian troops can and have fired in self-defence.
Vance cited as an example a situation where Kurdish forces might not have the weaponry to destroy an ISIL suicide bomber driving a heavily armoured vehicle. He said if Canadian troops fired on the vehicle, that would meet the definition of defensive fire.