Canada could prove itself an enlightened world leader if it brought Jack Letts here from Syria after British authorities stripped the alleged ISIL member of his citizenship, his father told the National Post Monday.
Ontario–born John Letts said he wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau two weeks ago to argue that Canada should accept his son, a former joint citizen who is now solely Canadian because of the U.K.’s recent action.
Letts — dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by British media — could be prosecuted and jailed in Canada if there’s evidence of wrongdoing, and would make for a powerful voice against radicalization, said the father.
“We can lead the world and show that there is a way through this mess,” said John Letts in an interview from his home in Oxford. “By taking our people back, we can be an example of how to deal with this … We can’t just leave a festering wound over in the Middle East. It’s going to come back and bite us again.”
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And he stressed the family would never sue the Canadian government, rejecting comparisons to the case of Omar Khadr, who was awarded $10 million by Ottawa after he sued over torture while an al-Qaeda detainee.
Meanwhile, in a British TV interview from prison aired Monday, Jack Letts said he feels like he is Canadian and hopes the country will take him in, but is not optimistic. “I don’t think anyone is going to help me,” he told ITV.
Liberal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale chastised Britain on Sunday for trying to “off-load” its responsibilities by taking away Letts’ citizenship, while the opposition Conservatives have said there’s no way he should ever be allowed into Canada.
Asked about the affair Monday, Trudeau did not expressly rule out bringing Letts here, but said travelling for the purposes of terrorism is a crime Canada would always prosecute.
John McKay, the Liberal chair of the Commons national security committee, was quoted by Britain’s Telegraph as suggesting Canada could not charge Letts because the legislation says someone has to leave from this country to be prosecuted for an overseas terrorist act.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Monday a government led by him would not “lift a finger” to get Letts here.
Canadian officials also said Sunday it was too dangerous for Canadian officials to visit Jack in northern Syria where he is being held by Kurdish forces. Letts dismissed that assertion, noting that numerous journalists and other nations’ representatives have travelled there recently.
“It’s not that unsafe,” said Letts. “We know that’s an excuse.”
How countries deal with the estimated 2,000 former ISIL foreign fighters held by the Kurds has varied.
While European countries have often balked at bringing theirs back, the U.S. has repatriated several, with a number already put on trial and sentenced. And President Donald Trump has urged other countries to admit their foreign fighters, who are a significant burden for Rojava, the semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave in Syria.
Letts said the British Foreign Office told him and wife Sally Lane on July 11 that their son would have his citizenship taken away. The couple — who have now separated — held off making the move public, but it was reported on the weekend by Britain’s Mail On Sunday newspaper.
Jack Letts, who grew up in Oxford but was a joint citizen like the rest of his family, travelled to the Middle East in 2014 after converting to Islam. He lived in ISIL-controlled Iraq, married a woman there, then ended up in Raqqa, Syria, the de-facto capital of the short-lived ISIL caliphate.
I've never even hurt anyone in ISIS
His parents say he grew to vehemently oppose the Islamic State and eventually escaped Raqqa, only to be captured by the Kurdish forces.
He came to the British authorities’ attention after a post on Facebook about a photo of a school friend with his army unit, the caption saying he would like to conduct a “martyrdom operation” against the soldiers.
His parents say Jack had given others his Facebook password and believe his account was hacked. In a BBC-TV interview earlier this year, Letts said he was at one time “an enemy of Britain” and would have taken part in a suicide car bombing, but now believes such behaviour is forbidden by Islam.
“It was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” he told ITV about moving to ISIL territory. “I never killed anyone though, I’ve never taken anyone a slave, I’ve never even hurt anyone in ISIS. I only fought the Syrian regime which killed more than a million Syrians.”
John Letts rejected the suggestion that his son is any less a Canadian citizen because he spent most of his life in Britain.
Jack has often visited Canada, most of his extended family live here, and he was actually baptized in a Catholic Church near Chatham, Ont., where Letts grew up, the father said. He said he even had his two sons memorize the name of every Indigenous tribe in Canada, and taught them songs by folk singer Stan Rogers.
“They have no idea how hard I’ve worked to make my boys Canadian, even though they’re in Britain,” said Letts.
The parents’ ordeal has included a brush with the law of their own. A jury convicted them under the U.K.’s terror-financing law in June for sending $386 to a friend of Jack’s in Lebanon.
— With a file from Canadian Press