No, Prime Minister, we do not have an obligation to repatriate terrorists

I am a parent (and now even a grandparent – how the hell did I get THIS old?).  As a parent I helped to raise three children, all of whom are now young adults. As all parents know, our kids do (or did) things we had a problem with and there were times when we considered looking up ‘adoption services’ in the Yellow Pages (seeking to have our progeny adopted, not taking on more).  And yet we stuck with it, worked through the difficult periods and got to a better place. Thanks to the wonders of time we eventually can put those past challenges into perspective and realise that maybe things were not so bad after all.  Sure, our kids did engage  in some pretty stupid behaviour, perhaps even dangerous behaviours on occasion, but it all worked out in the end and we can let bygones be bygones.  We still love our children and will do just about anything to defend and support them, no matter how egregious their acts in the past.

So, what if your son decided to join a terrorist group?  Would you be so quick to go to the wall for him now?

This is the situation of an alleged Canadian (well UK-Canadian actually) terrorist, Jack Letts, dubbed ‘Jihadi Jack’ by the UK media, who is currently languishing in a Kurdish-controlled prison after having been captured in May 2017 leaving Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold.  He has pleaded to come back to Canada, saying “”I don’t mind if you put me in prison, just get me out of here as soon as possible.”  For the record, the UK does not want him back and has done nothing to secure his release.

His parents (his father is Canadian and his mother British) both say that their son never went to Syria to join IS, although how they know that and why they come across as so sure is hard to determine.  A photo of Mr. Letts on the CBC Web site shows him making the jihadi ‘tawhid’ sign – raising one finger.  Tourists and humanitarians don’t do these things by the way.  It is highly likely that he did go to Syria to join a terrorist group, has been caught – or had a change of heart – and now wants to come to Canada, even if it means jail time.

What then should the Canadian government do, if anything?  Is our Prime Minister in a corner given his earlier statement that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”?  Not necessarily.  Mr.Letts is in the position he finds himself in now solely because of decisions he made, not through the fault of someone else.  HE elected to join IS and HE elected to travel to Syria and HE thus committed an offence not only in the UK/Canada but in Syria/Iraq and the laws of those latter countries must apply.  We may not agree with Iraqi or Syrian modes of justice and we may have serious concerns over the ways in which prisoners are held but we must acknowledge that Mr. Letts was a member of a heinous terrorist group that carried out hideous crimes against humanity include mass rapes, beheadings and immolations.  Those crimes were carried out in Iraq and Syria, not in Canada and the UK, and we must allow authorities in the former to hold those criminals to account.  Those responsible for such acts must pay.  I have no idea whether Mr. Letts participated in the worst of IS acts but the mere fact that he was part of the group means there is a price that must be met.  I am pretty sure that membership in IS is an offence no matter where you happen to be.

My heart really goes out to the parents.  As much as my own kids tested my parenting skills I cannot imagine what these two are going through.  That they are trying to get him home is a testament to the love they have for him.  And that is commendable and outstanding.

Sorry John Letts and Sally Lane, but your son made a very, very regrettable decision when he joined IS and he will have to suffer the consequences.  It is probably a good idea to reconcile yourselves to the fact that he became a terrorist and that he will be held for some time.  None of this means you have to end your love for him but a dose of reality may help.

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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