‘Would you like to come to Canada?’ What officials are doing for Canadians held in Syria over ISIS allegations

While I suppose the Canadian government has to offer some form of consular assistance, never seen anything to indicate that “Jihadi Jack” had any substantive connection to Canada except for the genes from his father as he spent most of his life in the UK and thus substantively, if not legally, is the UK’s responsibility.

So while I remain opposed to revoking citizenship in cases of terrorism or treason, no great efforts should be expended on consular support in such cases even if I understand that parents will explore all opportunities for their child:

“I’m from the government of Canada. Do you want assistance from us?”

“Yes,” Jack Letts, replied.

“If so, what kind?”

“Please get me out of this place.”

With that, a Canadian consular official began an hour-long online exchange with Letts, a British 22-year-old with Canadian citizenship who is imprisoned by Kurdish forces in Syria.

A transcript of the conversation, which Global Affairs Canada sent to his parents, who then shared it with Global News along with other documents, offers a rare look at how Ottawa is handling such cases.

They show that Canadian consular officials have been trying to find out where the Canadians are being detained in order to give them consular assistance.

The officials have communicated with the Kurdish authorities over concerns about torture allegations and medical attention for the detainees, the documents show.

But they also told the parents in an email that while they would try to get Letts to a third country, likely Turkey, they could not make any promises.

Jack Letts, who is British but has Canadian citizenship through his father, is being held by Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

Hundreds of ISIS foreign fighters, as well as ISIS wives and their children, have been captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Canadian government has said little about how it is assisting at least 13 Canadian detainees, who are being held in prisons and camps in northeast Syria.

But the transcript of a January 10 conversation between Letts and Global Affairs Canada shows that while officials have reached out to some of the detainees, they have also cautioned there’s not be much they can do.

“If it would be possible, would you like to come to Canada? Back to the U.K.?” the consular official asked.

“I want to live a normal life. I want to come to Canada,” Letts replied.

A Muslim convert, Letts traveled to Syria in 2014, leading the British press to dub him Jihadi Jack. But while he was in ISIS-controlled territory, he has denied being an ISIS member and his parents said there was no evidence he ever joined the terrorist group. Because the U.K. has shown no interest in assisting him and he is Canadian through his father, Ottawa has taken on the case.

Jack Letts said he was imprisoned near Qamishli, the hub of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Can u help me,” Letts wrote to the consular official.

He said he was imprisoned near Qamlishi, the hub of the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria known as Rojava. He said he had been there 10 months.

“We have limited capacity to provide consular service in Syria but we will try to help you,” the official responded.

The consular official asked Letts whether he had been charged, how he spent his days, what he ate, when he last saw a doctor, whether he was taking medications and had access to the Internet.

“Are they going to kill us,” Letts wanted to know.

“As I said, we have no access in Syria at the moment, but are working on your case.”

Letts asked the official if he intended to get him to Canada.

“I promise not to blow anyone up with fertaliser [sic] or however they do it,” Letts wrote, adding “that was a joke.”

“We have the intention to help you,” the official wrote.

“Obviously I’m not going to blow anyone up.”

“Canada is an option,” said the official.

Letts then said he was “going insane” and had tried to hang himself. He said he was experiencing kidney problems but had not seen a doctor in seven months.

“I made a mistake coming here, I know that. If you want to put me in prison, I understand that I do not mind,” Letts told the official.

“I have made mistakes, probably prison is good for me. But just not here. The situation here is terrible.”

“Tell my mum I am sorry. Tell my dad I am sorry. Tell them if I ever get out of this place I am going to try and be a better person.”

Towards the end of the exchange, the official assured Letts the government was working on his case, but within limits.

“We don’t have people in Syria and it is a complex environment so I can’t give you definitive timelines, but we are working on your case.”

Global News revealed last week that high-profile Canadian ISIS member Muhammad Ali had been captured by Kurdish forces. His wife, former Vancouver resident Rida Jabbar, and their two kids were also detained, along with women from Toronto and Montreal who married ISIS foreign fighters, and their five children.

Letts and a Montreal man are also being held.

A Kurdish official told Global News there had been “dialogue” with Canada over the detainees, including a meeting in Iraq, but that “suddenly the Canadian government stopped this process and we don’t know why.”

Asked to comment on the transcript, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware that Canadians were detained in Syria but its “ability to provide consular assistance in any part of Syria is extremely limited.”

In a podcast, national security law expert Craig Forcese said that because the Canadians were detained abroad, the government could not facilitate their return to Canada.

The best they could do was negotiate the conditions of their detention, he said, adding the matter was complicated because the Canadians were held by insurgents rather than a state.

But even engaging with their captors diplomatically could cause problems for Canada, he said. Turkey views the Kurdish forces as part of the PKK terrorist group. “So it’s a very difficult consular dance.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said the government’s primary focus should be public safety.

“I’m very, very reluctant to repatriate known ISIS fighters, unless they’re charged and imprisoned in conjunction with their return,” he said.

He also said he supported the revocation of citizenship for terrorism and treason.

“You know, unfortunately these people made very bad decisions and demonstrated that they were a risk to the public and that’s how they should be treated.”

But NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé said that while public safety is paramount, Canada was obliged to take responsibility for its citizens.

“As much as we may loathe what these people stand for and what they’re doing in some cases, I think that putting them into prisons here and having them go through the Canadian justice system is obviously at the core of a society that’s rules-based and respects the rule of law,” he said.

“Again, it’s not to condone in any way these atrocities. Quite the contrary. I believe that if we truly believe that this is wrong then we should be making sure that they are seeing justice through the Canadian system.”

Dubé also said Ottawa should bring back Canadian wives of ISIS fighters and their children. “It doesn’t sound like that’s the case at the moment, but I would hope that they would make every effort to bring the women and children back.”

Source:‘Would you like to come to Canada?’ What officials are doing for Canadians held in Syria over ISIS allegations

Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week

An example of how inheriting Canadian citizenship (first generation) leads to consular demands even in cases where a person has never lived in Canada:

John Letts, the father of a young British-Canadian man accused of belonging to ISIS and being held in a Kurdish jail in Syria, is hoping to lobby the Canadian government in person next week for help securing his son’s transfer to Canada.

Letts and his wife, Sally Lane, insist the allegations against their son Jack are false but say he has the right to answer any charges against him in a British or Canadian court.

Letts say he would have travelled to Canada long before now had he been allowed.

He and Lane have been subject to a travel ban since being charged in 2016 under British terrorism legislation for trying to send money to their son, who they say was desperate to leave ISIS-held territory in the Middle East.

On Thursday, a British judge eased the restrictions on Letts, giving him permission to travel abroad with the court’s prior approval.

“We were just given the ruling this morning, so we haven’t had really much of a chance to digest it,” Letts said in an interview after the hearing.

“But I’m hoping that next week, I’d like to think I could be in Canada having meetings with appropriate people.”

Family holds dual citizenship

Jack Letts was 18 when he left his family’s home in Oxford to travel to Jordan and then Syria in 2014.

Last spring, Kurdish militias controlling parts of northern Syria stopped him as he was trying to leave ISIS-held territory and jailed him in the town of Qamishli.

Canadian consular officials spoke with him by telephone in January. In audio recordings of the call obtained by CBC News, Jack Letts said he had tried to commit suicide and asked to be sent to Canada.

The British media have dubbed him Jihadi Jack, a label his parents say has made their ordeal all the more difficult. Public opinion in the U.K. tends not to favour allowing people suspected of fighting for ISIS to return.

The parents turned to Ottawa for help, they say, in the face of an indifferent response from the British Foreign Office. Letts, Lane and their two children, including Jack, hold dual citizenship. When asked about the Letts case in the past, U.K. authorities have said they cannot help British citizens in places where the U.K. has no consular support.

Letts, seen in Facebook photo at age 20, went to Syria and Iraq in 2014, and is now in a Kurdish jail in northern Syria. He was dubbed Jihadi Jack in British media, a label his parents feel has hurt his case. (Facebook)

Lane is optimistic that Canada will help see her son extricated from the Kurdish prison.

“I think we’re in a different time frame now,” she said. “Jack’s in detention. There’s an opportunity to get him out of detention, and those questions about what he was doing can now be answered in a trial.”

Parents could face 14 years in prison

Lane says she has been focused on how to help her son rather than on the charges laid against her in Britain, with a trial set to begin in September.

But if found guilty, she and her husband could face up to 14 years in prison, an outcome supporters say would be ludicrous for parents trying to help a child.

John Letts says living under bail conditions and being blackballed by some in the community has been an ordeal, harming the couple’s ability to make a living.

“We’ve been living like this for three and a half years, waiting under this sword of Damocles and under this view that we’re somehow terrorists and aiding and abetting ISIS, and it just makes you very angry and upset. And here’s a breakthrough.”

In his decision Thursday at the Central Criminal Court in London, known as the Old Bailey, Judge Nicholas Hilliard did not lift the travel ban on Lane.

Source: Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week