Are some Canadians ‘useful idiots’ when it comes to terrorism?

PLEASE! Before you excoriate me and engage in ad hominem attacks based on the title of this blog – not that I have not been subject to both before! – read to the end. Then, if you still think I am a knuckle-dragging troglodyte have at ‘er.

Shortly after the creation of the Soviet Union a whole bunch of people in the West thought the Utopian form of government had finally been created. These people loved socialism and communism in theory and were stalwart supporter of the Soviets, despite what turned out to be serious human rights violations and massacres. Stalin may or may not had the term ‘useful idiot’ in mind when he saw these ‘fans’ as “countless innocent although well-intentioned sentimentalists or idealists“. The 1981 movie Reds had a similar theme.

I fear something akin to this is happening when it comes to what to do with ex-UK now solely Canadian citizen Jack Letts, aka Jihadi Jack. I have noticed that many are clamouring for the Canadian government to bring him home: the government for its part says it has no legal obligation to do so although a UN rapporteur says we do (question: when it comes to Canadian vs. international law which prevails?). I side with the government on this.

I am having a hard time understanding why so many of my fellow citizens are so worked up over Jack. Let’s review the facts, shall we?

  • Jack is a Canadian citizen only because his dad is: he has spent no appreciable time here.
  • Jack was radicalised 100% in the UK and left consciously to join Islamic State (IS) before he was captured. He admits to this despite his father’s denials
  • Jack did not want to come to Canada originally: his preference was to return to the UK but that country’s decision to revoke his citizenship has closed that door so he is looking to us. Sounds like a citizen of convenience to me.

There is no guarantee that should he come here, which the Charter says he can, he could be tried and found guilty of joining a terrorist group. The Criminal Code says it is an offence to leave Canada to do so: he left the UK, not Canada, to join IS. A sharp defence lawyer could get him off.

Let be clear on this: Jack Letts is NOT our problem. We had no role in his upbringing let alone his radicalisation. For the record, I see three categories of people when it comes to terrorism and Canada:

a) those radicalised here and sentenced here. In those cases we own them and we need to take responsibility. That is why I objected to the Harper government plans to take away the citizenship of Zakarias Amara, one of the Toronto 18.

b) those who radicalised here and joined terrorist groups abroad. We own them – after they serve a sentence in the country where there crimes occurred. If that country has capital punishment, then tough: don’t commit capital offences in a country that allows for execution. This is just good old common sense

c) cases like Jack Letts. We owe him absolutely nothing and should do nothing to help him. If he makes his way back we will have to take him in. What then? Who knows?

C’mon Canada! Can we stop playing ‘Dudley Doright’ for once? Can we not ALWAYS be the boy scout? Don’t get me wrong, I love this land. I drink tea at Timmies, even if it is no longer Canadian. I worship hockey, even if I am a half-ass goalie and no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup in over a quarter century. And when I cut I bleed maple leaf red, even if everyone else does so.

But we really need to take a pass on Jihadi Jack. He is simply not someone for whom we are responsible. As to the argument that terrorist groups will point to our ‘moral shirking’ as an example of how much we pay lip service to what we stand for, are you serious? Jihadi terrorists want to kill us irrespective of what we do and I am pretty sure no one in IS is hanging on what Canada will or will not do when it comes to this case.

In the end, I appreciate what those who disagree with me are trying to do. You are good Canadians. and the analogy to useful idiots is not perfect after all: no one is advocating for IS as far as I can tell. I just think you are naive in extremis.

PS I see that Jack’s father John is thinking of coming back to Canada to lobby for is son’s repatriation. I advise him to rethink this – he might not get the reaction he wants.

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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