The House

The 'Jihadi Jack' debate: Who has a right to come back to Canada?

This week on The House, we discuss whether Jack Letts should be repatriated to Canada with two global security experts. We look at the government's new international development funding with Minister Maryam Monsef. And Rachel Giese joins us to talk about the resurfacing of an anti-same-sex marriage speech by Andrew Scheer.
Jack Letts, dubbed Jihadi Jack by British media, is currently being detained by Kurdish authorities in a prison in northern Syria along the Turkish border. (Facebook)

Canada needs to take part in co-ordinating an international response to citizens who leave their countries to join extremist groups abroad, two experts say.

The debate about what to do with foreign fighters revived this week after Jack Letts — dubbed "Jihadi Jack" by British media outlets — saw his U.K. citizenship revoked and announced his intention to seek help from Canada, now the only country where he holds citizenship.

Audrey Macklin, a professor and chair in human rights law at the University of Toronto, and Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, spoke to The House this week about the problem of foreign fighters.

"The U.K. has put Canada in an awkward position," Macklin said, adding she thinks Canada should put pressure on the U.K. to reverse its decision to strip Letts of his citizenship.

Matthews said Canada doesn't have many options. He said it's not Canada's duty to facilitate Letts's return — but if he makes his way back to Canadian soil, the federal government can't stop him from staying.

Parties have argued in the House of Commons for years over how to deal with foreign fighters. While the issue isn't new, the timing of this latest development in Letts's case — just before a federal election campaign officially begins — makes it especially controversial.

Justin Trudeau will meet Boris Johnson at the G7 this weekend amid a diplomatic spat over the UK's decision to revoke citizenship from the man dubbed 'Jihadi Jack.' Now Jack Letts hopes to come to Canada, something Ottawa has no plans to facilitate. Law prof Audrey Macklin and former diplomat Kyle Matthews discuss what Canada's strategy should be on foreign fighters. 10:26

"I think this has all taken place under a hyper-partisan focus," Matthews said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canada was not actively interested in helping Letts come here. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said a government led by him wouldn't "lift a finger" to bring him back either.

The issue is a polarizing one, but Macklin said nations shouldn't leave their citizens stateless while using them as "political hot potatoes."

A possible next step in handling returning foreign fighters might be to establish an international body to prosecute them, Macklin and Matthews said.

Macklin suggested some kind of co-ordinated global effort, while Matthews raised the idea of an international tribunal based abroad, to deal with foreign fighters in one place instead of sending them back to their home countries first.

Scheer doesn't belong at Ottawa Pride, LGBTQ activist says

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks at a news conference at Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina, on Aug. 14. Scheer has pledged to reduce federal taxes on employment insurance parental benefits. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Although the Liberals have been calling on him publicly to end his "lifelong boycott of Pride events," a leading figure in Canada's LGBTQ community says Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has no business attending Pride festivities in Ottawa this weekend — unless he first offers an apology and an explanation of his past views on same-sex marriage.

Rachel Giese, editorial director of the news and culture website Xtra and winner of the 2019 Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing, told The House on Friday that any politician who has expressed the sort of negative feelings about same-sex couples that Scheer has in the past does not belong at tomorrow's Pride parade in the nation's capital.

"It's an insult to the community," Giese told host Chris Hall. "If he continues to feel the way that he said he felt in 2005 — and we have no reason to believe his views have changed at all — then I think it's best he stays away from Pride."

Her comments came after Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale this week tweeted a video of a 2005 speech Scheer delivered in the House of Commons and called on the Conservative leader to attend Pride events in Ottawa this weekend.

In that speech, the young backbencher opposed the Civil Marriages Act that legalized same-sex marriage in Canada later that year, saying that same-sex couples can't call themselves "married" because they can't have children together naturally.

Scheer went on to describe the concept of same-sex marriage as absurd. "Just because you call a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg," he said. "If this bill passes, governments and individual Canadians will be forced to call a tail a leg, nothing more."

The Liberals are calling out Andrew Scheer for a 2005 speech in which he explained his opposition to same-sex marriage and urging him to march in Ottawa's Pride Parade on Sunday. Author and journalist Rachel Giese says the partisan finger-pointing that's resulted is a frustrating distraction from issues of more pressing concern for many LGBTQ voters. 8:00

The reappearance of that 2005 speech in the context of the coming federal election — reawakening the same-sex marriage debate years after successive court rulings and an act of Parliament effectively put the issue to bed — has upset many in the LGBTQ community.

"It wasn't easy to relive that moment," Giese said. "I'm old enough to have been around when we had federal politicians debating marriage equality in Canada. It was a distressing time, hearing your human rights and your relationships being debated."

Are Canada's contributions to international aid on the rise again?

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef speaks during a ceremony presenting the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Dec. 14, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian government this week demonstrated a commitment to eradicating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by announcing a $930.4 million commitment to the Global Fund.

International Development Minister Maryam Monsef said Canada's contribution represents an increase of nearly 16 per cent in its support for the international organization tasked with reducing the spread and impact of the three infectious diseases.

"Canadians are continuing their tradition of doing their part abroad to make sure that the three most deadly diseases are eradicated. The Canadian civil society groups, the experts, the Global Fund itself made the case for an increase in 15 per cent and we've delivered on that," Monsef told The House.

International Development Minister Maryam Monsef speaks with Chris Hall about the government's announcement of $930.4 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. 6:43

The announcement follows a commitment the Liberals made at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver in June to annually contribute $1.4 billion until 2030 to support global health and nutrition causes, including sexual and reproductive rights and health.

Robert Greenhill, the executive chairman of Global Canada, a non-governmental organization that tracks Canada's role in the world, welcomed the news, even as he urged the federal government to do more.

As a share of Canada's national income, Canada's foreign aid commitment is at its lowest level in 50 years, Greenhill said.

"We speak like Santa and we spend like Scrooge when it comes to overall funding for development," he told The House.

"To be fair, this government had to deal with some very critical international priorities. But unfortunately, that meant they basically took for granted the area around development and they've basically been engaging in shifting funds within a pot that's relatively flat in terms of share of national income, in order to get the kind of media support or civil society praise for specific announcements, while actually allowing overall levels of support to stagnate."

Bonus interview: What happens to newspapers in Quebec? 

It's hardly breaking news that a lot of newspapers are broke — but the message was driven home again recently with the news that Le Groupe Capitales Médias is seeking bankruptcy protection.

Founded in 2015 by former Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, the chain owns dailies in key markets, including Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and the Saguenay.
The Quebec government has responded with an emergency $5 million loan to keep the newspapers going for now. A committee of the National Assembly is to meet next week to discuss other options to help the industry.

In this online exclusive content, we ask media expert Colette Brin about the media landscape in Quebec.

Remember when newspapers were a thing? Okay, they still are -- but the Quebec government's decision to extend a $5-million loan this week to help Le Groupe Capitales Medias stay afloat underscores how much trouble they're in. Laval U media studies prof Colette Brin says there's broad consensus in Quebec about the need for even more government intervention, but the challenge is getting it right. 6:26


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