Chris Selley: With Jihadi Jack, Britain gives Canada a taste of its own medicine

Good column by Selley. Nails country responsibility:

On Sunday we learned that Jack Letts, known in the British press as Jihadi Jack, is no longer a British subject. Then-home secretary Sajid Javid and then-prime minister Theresa May reportedly approved stripping the alleged ISIL fighter of his citizenship as one of their administration’s final acts and it seems they didn’t even send a telegram. Instead Letts was informed by an ITV News crew interviewing him at the Kurdish prison where he has been held for two-and-a-half years. Now, some fear, he will eventually wind up in Canada: He holds citizenship through his parents.

“Justin Trudeau must assure Canadians today that he isn’t trying to bring Jihadi Jack back to Canada,” Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus said in a statement, calling it “naïve and dangerous” to think “anyone who signed up to fight with ISIS can be reformed.”

Paul-Hus does not exaggerate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remarkable rhetorical commitment to rehabilitating ISIL fighters. “Someone who has engaged and turned away from that hateful ideology can be an extraordinarily powerful voice for preventing radicalization in future generations and younger people within the community,” he told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme in 2017. The Liberals didn’t just revoke the Conservative law allowing dual-citizen terrorists and traitors to be stripped of their citizenship; they made a big, principled show of it. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Trudeau would gravely intone, explicitly asking audience members to put themselves on the same level as Zakaria Amara, the Toronto 18 ringleader who lost his citizenship under the Conservatives and got it back under the Liberals.

The talking point is altogether ridiculous — Canadian citizenship is stratified according to criteria as basic as whether it can be passed on to foreign-born children — but like it or not, it was a brave stance.

The Liberals seemed less proud of Canadian consular officials making contact with Letts, refusing to comment when CBC got hold of audio tapes and transcripts of their meetings last year. Perhaps that’s because Letts said he would be happy to relocate to a Canadian prison if it would get him out of his current accommodations. Since then, Foreign Affairs seems to have lost interest in his situation entirely. Now, weeks out from an election, the Conservatives have been served a soft-on-terror talking point on a silver platter.

This case hardly illustrates the wisdom of the Conservative and British approaches

To their credit, neither Paul-Hus nor party leader Andrew Scheer has suggested this is a legislative problem. “(Letts is) in prison now and that’s where he should stay. I won’t lift a finger to bring him back to Canada,” Scheer said in a statement on Monday. Perhaps surprisingly, Paul-Hus wouldn’t even confirm to the National Post that a Conservative government would reintroduce the citizenship revocation provision.

Conservative partisans have been more than happy to draw the link, however.

“Under Stephen Harper, dual nationals could be stripped of their Canadian citizenship if they were convicted of terrorist offences. Justin Trudeau changed that law,” the pro-Conservative advocacy group Canada Proud tweeted. “So now, Canada is stuck with this ISIS terrorist.”

Letts hasn’t been convicted of anything, but he could theoretically have lost his citizenship under a different section of the law allowing the minister to seek revocation if he “has reasonable grounds to believe that a person … served as a member of an armed force of a country or as a member of an organized armed group and that country or group was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada.”

This case hardly illustrates the wisdom of the Conservative and British approaches, however. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale quite rightly accused the Brits of attempting to “off-load their responsibilities” — Letts was born, raised, educated and lost the plot on British soil. Canada would be no better off at this point with the Conservative-era law in place: It only applied to dual citizens, and Letts is no longer one of those. From a hawk’s perspective, the best-case alternative scenario would be that we had denationalized Letts first, leaving Britain holding the bag. This would arguably be fairer, but surely a never-ending game of terrorist tag with our foreign allies — You’re it! No givebacks! — is a pretty lousy excuse for a national security strategy.

As annoyed as Canadians are right now with the prospect of helping or even housing this cretin, that’s precisely as annoyed as the Conservative legislation was sure to make other countries. That those countries might more often be Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia than the United Kingdom does not redeem the exercise — rather, it raises the question of why we would want any more terrorists running around those countries instead of under close watch here at home. I happen to agree with Trudeau that dealing with our own trash is the right moral and ethical thing to do. But morals and ethics aside, purely as a practical matter, it strikes me as the only sensible approach.

Source: Chris Selley: With Jihadi Jack, Britain gives Canada a taste of its own medicine

And it appears that the Conservatives have no plans to re-introduce citizenship revocation should they win the election:

Mr. Letts’s case has refuelled a debate in Canada over dual citizens convicted of terrorism.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper passed a law in 2014 that gave Canada the power to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who had been convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. The Trudeau government reversed the law in 2017 after campaigning on the slogan “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

Despite Mr. Scheer’s opposition to repatriating Canadian foreign fighters, his office said the Conservatives “would not re-introduce grounds for the revocation of Canadian citizenship that relate to national security.” The Conservatives did not explain why Mr. Scheer would not reinstate the law.

Legal experts say the former law, if re-introduced, would likely lead to a legal challenge on the grounds that it would create a two-tier citizenship system.

Audrey Macklin, a law professor and chair in human-rights law at the University of Toronto, said these kinds of citizenship revocation laws encourage an “arbitrary race to see who could strip citizenship of dual nationals first.”

“It’s hard not to recall that Canada had such a law inspired by the U.K. itself but now it finds itself on the receiving end of another state’s practice. It just reminds us that this is a parochial, unhelpful, kind of grubby response,” Prof. Macklin said.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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