Neither the governing Liberals nor the Opposition Conservatives expressed enthusiasm Monday for trying to secure the release of the overseas prisoner dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the British media.
Questions once again emerged about the fate of Jack Letts, the British-Canadian man held in a Kurdish jail in Syria, following word that London recently revoked his citizenship.
Letts’ father John has said his son, who still holds Canadian citizenship, went to Syria to help create a peaceful Muslim state and was never involved in violence perpetrated by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
According to John Letts, the Kurds expressed willingness last year to hand his son over to Canadian authorities. He has also said Global Affairs Canada told the family for months that it was working to get their son released but that the department then decided it was too dangerous.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Letts should remain locked up.
“Jihadi Jack is in prison now and that is where he should stay,” Scheer said Monday in a statement. “A Conservative government under my leadership will not lift a finger to bring him back to Canada.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to explain to Canadians “why he and his government worked so hard to bring him here,” Scheer added.
Asked Monday if he would welcome Letts to Canada, Trudeau would only say it is a crime to travel internationally with the aim of supporting terrorism. “And that is a crime that we will continue to make all attempts to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. That is the message we have for Canadians and for anyone involved.”
The Canadian government expressed disappointment Sunday that the United Kingdom had moved to “off-load their responsibilities” by stripping Letts’ British citizenship.
“Terrorism knows no borders, so countries need to work together to keep each other safe,” the federal statement said.
“Investigating, arresting, charging and prosecuting any Canadian involved in terrorism or violent extremism is our primary objective. They must be held accountable for their actions.”
The government added that while it is aware of Canadian citizens detained in Syria, there is no legal obligation to facilitate their return. “We will not expose our consular officials to undue risk in this dangerous part of the world.”
In June, Trudeau expressed confidence in the RCMP to investigate Canadians who travelled to fight alongside extremists in Iraq and Syria.
He said the Mounties and intelligence agencies in Canada and abroad face the difficult challenge of presenting the information they gather in court as evidence of crimes.
The government is ensuring Canadian agencies have the necessary resources and opportunities to collaborate with foreign allies on such cases, he added.
The latest annual federal report on extremism says some 190 people with connections to Canada are suspected of terrorist activity abroad and, in addition, approximately 60 have returned.
The activities of these Canadians in various countries could involve front-line fighting, training, logistical support, fundraising or studying at extremist-influenced schools.
A small number of the 60 returnees have come back from Turkey, Iraq or Syria but many who remain abroad now lack valid travel documents, find themselves on a no-fly list or fear being arrested on Canadian soil.
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press