VIDEO: B.C. man ‘so grateful’ to be back after eight-month detention in Syria

Kristian Baxter was detained while visiting the war-ravaged country in December

Kristian Lee Baxter, who was released this week after being detained in Syrian, in Vancouver after returning to Canada on Saturday August 10, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

A Nanaimo man who spent eight months in Syrian prisons said he wept three times on his flight back because he was so excited to finally be coming home.

Kristian Baxter returned to Vancouver on Saturday, just days after he was released from Syrian custody thanks in part to Lebanese mediation. The 45-year-old was detained while visiting the war-ravaged country as a tourist last December.

“I’m just thrilled to be a Canadian citizen and I’m just so happy to see green grass and trees and flowers and the big Canadian flag over there,” he said during a brief and emotional interview on his way home to Nanaimo.

Baxter appeared pale but in good spirits, holding his arm around his mother Andrea Leclair and his hand on stepfather Jean-Guy Leclair’s shoulder as he spoke. He hadn’t slept in three days, he said, and was overwhelmed with gratitude for every government official, negotiator, lawyer and family member who worked “tirelessly” for his release.

A warning against travel to Syria has been in place since the war broke out in the Middle Eastern nation in 2011. Canada does not have an embassy in the country.

Lebanon’s General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim has said Baxter was detained for what Syrian authorities considered a “major violation” of local laws, adding that authorities there may have considered the incident security related.

Baxter declined to go into detail about his arrest or conditions of his detention, but he said he rarely had anyone to speak with and wrote a diary on the walls of his cell to keep his mind busy. He didn’t realize anyone knew where he was and believed he would have to make his own way out of Syria, if he was ever released.

On his way to the bathroom one day while in detention when a Syrian general called out, “Kristian.”

“They never used my name, so that was bizarre,” he said. “And he goes, ‘You need vitamin D, you need vitamins.’”

The general said they were also going clean his room and give him a mattress, to which Baxter replied that all he cared about was going home, he said.

The general told Baxter that he would be going home in a week or two, but when Baxter asked for details, the general said he didn’t have any, he said.

Three or four days later, Baxter said, his hair and beard, which had both grown long over the months, were cut. Later, he heard the general on the other side of his cell door.

“He came to my room and they had a little slot where they pass you food,” Baxter said.

“He pushed his hands through and he said, ‘You’re going home, I’m so happy for you.’”

Baxter still thought it might be a trick when he was told he was being taken across the border into Lebanon to be released. His greatest fear, he said, was that he would be released in Syria and kidnapped. He had no money, no friends in the country and does not speak Arabic, he said.

He believed it was real when he said Emmanuelle Lamoureux, the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon, introduced herself.

“I said, ‘My name is Kristian,’ and she goes, ‘I know who you are.’ And then I just broke down and hugged her and I cried, I just couldn’t stop.”

Baxter said that when he arrived at the Vancouver airport, he was escorted to a security room to find his mother and stepfather waiting.

Andrea Leclair, who has advocated for her son since he stopped replying to messages while travelling last December, said the experience has taken an emotional toll.

“It’s been hellish. We just worked tirelessly and it’s just all paid off,” she said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Central Westcoast Forest Society is searching for wood and trees

Scrap wood will be used to help rebuild the local salmon populations near Tofino and Ucluelet.

UPDATED: Tofino-Ucluelet highway reopens after bridge installed earlier than expected

Hwy. 4 now open to all vehicles, including delivery trucks and RVs

UPDATED: Ucluelet and Tofino mayors call for “calmness” and “empathy” as highway closure cuts communities off from supplies

Ministry of transportation expects to open road for “essential travel only” from noon-8 p.m. Friday.

Tofino shakes up emergency notification service

“You can download maps and it has more functionality.”

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Risk of coronavirus low in B.C. as first case emerges in Toronto: officials

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in B.C.

Most Read