Canada 'disappointed' after U.K. reportedly strips Jihadi Jack of citizenship

Jack Letts, a British-Canadian man often known as Jihadi Jack in the media, has reportedly been stripped of his British citizenship in a decision that has "disappointed" Canada.

Goodale slams U.K.'s 'unilateral action to offload their responsibilities' in case of dual citizen Jack Letts

Jack Letts in Syria with a beard and long brown hair looking toward the camera, wearing cargo pants and a camouflaged shirt, pointing his index finger toward the camera.
A statement released Sunday from the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canada is 'disappointed' that the U.K. has reportedly stripped Jack Letts, pictured here at age 20, of his British citizenship. (Facebook)

Jack Letts, a British-Canadian man who is accused of travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS, was reportedly stripped of his British citizenship, according to British media — a decision that has "disappointed" Canada.

Letts, who grew up in Oxford, U.K., and is commonly known as Jihadi Jack in British media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years. A Muslim convert, he had travelled to Syria at age 18.

"The government of Canada is aware that the United Kingdom revoked the citizenship of Jack Letts," a statement released Sunday from the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale read. "Terrorism knows no borders, so countries need to work together to keep each other safe.

"Canada is disappointed that the United Kingdom has taken this unilateral action to offload their responsibilities."

A statement from the U.K.'s Home Office said revoking British citizenships is one way it counters terrorist threats, but it says the government does not comment on individual cases.

Arrested en route to Turkey

Letts travelled to Syria in 2014 to join IS fighters.

He told British broadcaster ITV News in February that he left Raqqa, the former hub for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria power in the region, and tried to travel overland to Turkey, where he intended to live out his life. However, he was arrested by Kurdish forces and transferred to a prison in Qamishli in northern Syria, along the Turkish border.

He had told ITV News he was not seeking to return to Canada. 

"I feel British, I am British. My dad's Canadian. If the U.K. accepted me I would go back to the U.K., it's my home, but I don't think that is going to happen," he told ITV News.

Canada's consular duty

In Sunday's statement, Goodale's office said that it is aware of multiple Canadian citizens detained in Syria, but that consular services will not be provided because of "undue risk in this dangerous part of the world.

"There is no legal obligation to facilitate their return," the statement read. "We are not able to comment on specific cases or national security operational matters."

Goodale's assessment is "not entirely wrong," national security expert Leah West told CBC's News Network Sunday, but she believes it might be in Canada's best interest to get involved.

"There's no obligation to put Canadian lives at risk to repatriate Jack Letts and other Canadian ISIS fighters who are currently detained in Kurdish custody," said West, a lecturer in national security law and counterterrorism at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"It may not be an obligation on the government legally to bring these people home, but it's the right thing to do in terms of the security and the safety of Canadians," she added.

West said the consequences of leaving Letts in Kurdish custody could eventually lead to his escape, release or "transfer to either the Syrian or Iraqi government," where he could face death or torture.

"So where's there's not a legal obligation, there's a human rights and a moral obligation to these citizens and to the global community to hold these Canadians to account for what they've done."

'Hurdles' for prosecution

John Letts, father of Jack Letts, announced on Oct. 29, 2018, that he would lobby to repatriate Canadians who travelled to Syria, including his son. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

West said that while it's possible Letts could be prosecuted for terrorism offences in Canada, the case for prosecution faces "hurdles" because Letts originally travelled from Britain — not Canada.

"There's crimes in the Criminal Code for leaving Canada to facilitate terrorist activity or to commit offences on behalf of a terrorist organization," West explained. "Letts doesn't fall within that category. He's not susceptible to prosecution for this offence because he did not leave Canada in order to do that."

West also highlighted Britain's track record for prosecuting terrorists, which she said is much better than Canada's.

"The idea that [Letts] would come home and we would swiftly and successfully prosecute him is questionable," she said.

Letts's Canadian father, John Letts, has already appealed to both the Canadian and U.K. governments to repatriate his son.

With files from Peter Zimonjic and The Canadian Press