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

Maple Ridge’s Larry Walker Jr. gets voted into Cooperstown

Walker received 76.6 percent of the Baseball Writers of America Association vote

Maple Ridge boy, 13, arrested in alleged assault at Port Coquitlam middle school

Boy alleged to have used inappropriate levels of force to injure the girl

Larry Walker and his father keeping expectations low for HOF induction

Walker needs 75 percent of votes in order to be inducted into Cooperstown

Blue Line Sports in Haney Place Mall closing

After 27 years of business the Sahota family will be closing the store by Jan. 30.

VIDEO: Nickelback gears up for nostalgia tour

Canadian band joins Stone Temple Pilots for a summer tour that includes just one stop in Canada

Province asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ in screening for possible coronavirus cases

This comes after U.S. health officials confirmed a case of the virus in Washington State

PHOTOS: Heavy snowfall breaks window, causing avalanche into B.C. newsroom office

It was a chaotic start to the week for the Kitimat Northern Sentinel

Deer carcass strung up at Surrey fire hall prompts investigation

Investigation underway following complaint a Surrey firefighter hung a deer carcass in a fire hall

Canadian law firm launches class action on behalf of Iran flight victims

Flight 752 was shot down by Iran shortly after take off

Mission Hill cellarman fired after mistakenly dumping $162K of wine down the drain

The former employee filed a grievance with the West Kelowna winery but was unsuccesful

Protesters block B.C. government building entrance to support Wet’suwet’en First Nation

A letter with four demands was delivered to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources

VIDEO: Langley woman without a home after houseboat sinks during snowy weather

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the Grant’s Landing resident replace her possessions

Most Read