A Canadian terrorist is a Canadian terrorist is a Canadian terrorist

We all remember when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uttered the famous line “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” right? It was during one of the Munk debates in the lead up to the 2015 federal elections after which he became our leader. In that debate, Mr. Trudeau was responding to plans by the Conservatives under then PM Stephen Harper to revoke citizenship of convicted terrorists (in this case a member of the infamous Toronto 18).

That quote has come back to haunt our PM on occasion. And many Canadians are not showing signs of letting him off. when it comes to terrorists The latest case involves Jack Letts, a dual Canadian-Brit who joined Islamic State (IS) in 2014 and is now being held by Kurdish fighters. The Kurds have made it clear that they neither want nor can care for the hundreds/thousands of IS ‘foreign fighters’ and their families and want their home nations to take them back. Few countries have made any move to do so, Canada included.

Things are now a tad more complicated. The UK has revoked Mr. Letts’ British citizenship, leaving him with his Canadian one (his dad is Canadian and his mom British). The Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale has said that “Canada is disappointed that the United Kingdom has taken this unilateral action to offload their responsibilities.”

What then to do?

Before I go over this argument – again! – let us take a look at another case where Canadians are in trouble: Hong Kong. There are some 300,000 of them, a few of whom appear to be participating in the pro-democracy protests of late. Unless you happen to live on Pluto, you know that China is losing patience with these protests and has been holding ‘exercises’ on the mainland across from the former UK colony to send a signal that it may send in the troops, much as it did in Tianamen Square back in 1989. If it does, what should Canada do? Should we organise a rescue effort?

The question reduces to this: what obligation, if any, do we collectively have as a nation to Canadians who are in difficulty abroad? These two cases are of course very, very different. The vast majority of Canadians in Hong Kong, some of whom have been there for decades, are not doing anything wrong (as a side note, those who are marching with other Hong Kong residents might want to be careful: China has already called these actions ‘terrorist in nature’ and they may very well crack down as already noted. I am not so sure a Canadian passport will afford much protection). Whether or not we can actually DO anything if this goes south big time is a separate issue.

Jack Letts is another matter entirely. He WILLINGLY left the UK to join IS. He may have taken part in heinous crimes (we don’t know for sure and it is really hard to gather evidence in that part of the world). He is a terrorist. Now he wants to come home.

And we should not lift a finger to help him.

He made his bed: he can now lie in it. He turned his back on the UK and Canada and signed on to a group that sought our destruction. As the old Knight Templar said in movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he chose ‘poorly’. Bad choices have bad consequences, or so my parents taught me.

There are those who disagree, some vehemently, with me and even those that have launched ad hominem attacks against me for my position. To set the record straight, I will – again! – outline my position:

  • as far as I know, Canada has no ‘legal’ obligation to help Mr. Letts;
  • as for a ‘moral’ obligation I do not know what that means or what weight it should be given;
  • Canadians and others that joined IS or other terrorist groups and got caught should face justice where their crimes were committed even if that entails capital punishment (I personally do not agree with the death penalty by the way but I also do not make Iraqi or Syrian law. Furthermore I know that if I travel and do stupid shit in a foreign land I am subject to that land’s laws);
  • the kids of terrorists should be brought back and given over to family or the state to take care of. We cannot allow terrorists to raise their children in this poisonous ideology anymore than we can allow kids to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their parents;
  • if these terrorists somehow make it back on their own accord (i.e. WITHOUT state/taxpayer assistance) we have to take them, or at least that is what I understand under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada should NOT revoke citizenship for any reason other than if it was obtained fraudulently; and
  • all returnees should be arrested and charged IMMEDIATELY under sections 83.1ff of the Criminal Code (the terrorism sections) although heaven help the Crown in its prosecution as noted earlier. ‘De-radicalisation’ and other such unproven programmes should be offered only AFTER conviction.

Is that clear enough?

Jack Letts does not deserve our help, not that any political party on the verge of an election would offer to do much given the likely reaction by the electorate.

Maybe he should have watched Indiana Jones and chosen ‘wisely’.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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