The Trudeau government appears to be in no hurry to help Canadians who voluntarily joined Islamic terrorists and are now imprisoned in Syria.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale showed little sympathy Tuesday for such individuals who now want to return to Canada.
“They made this decision to leave this country and to go somewhere else to become associated with a vile and heinous and atrocious terrorist operation,” he said.
“There are consequences that flow from that.”
Goodale said Canadian police, security and intelligence officials are working with their international counterparts to collect evidence that will be usable in a court of law and, where possible, ”we will lay charges and prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
But he didn’t answer directly when asked if the government will make any effort to return imprisoned individuals to Canada if it can’t compile enough evidence to prosecute them here.
Goodale’s comments came as the Conservatives continued to hammer the government over reports that consular officials have initiated contact with at least one imprisoned terror suspect, British-Canadian Jack Letts — dubbed Jihadi Jack by the British press — about coming to Canada.
“Jihadi Jack is a U.K. citizen,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told the House of Commons.
“The government proactively reached out to try to bring this individual, who has fought with a terrorist organization, back to Canada. It took it upon itself to reach out to bring this individual to Canada. Why?”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that it’s an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code to travel abroad to engage in terrorist activity and that charges will be laid “when there is evidence to support them.” He accused Scheer of playing politics with the issue.
“What we see here is the Conservatives yet again grasping at straws to try to scare Canadians, to try to make Canadians feel unsafe,” Trudeau said.
“Well … I can tell you that Canadians can have the utmost confidence in the work of our intelligence agencies and our security officers in doing everything necessary to keep Canadians safe, to uphold our laws and our values, and demonstrate that the politics of fear have no place in this country.”
Global News has reported that at least three Canadians, alleged to have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — also known as ISIS or Daesh — are currently in prison there and asking to return home. Three spouses and seven children are also detained.
According to Global News, a Canadian consular official held an hour-long online exchange with Letts in January, including asking him if he’d like to come to Canada or go back to the United Kingdom.
“I want to live a normal life. I want to come to Canada,” Letts replied.
The official told Letts that Canada has “limited capacity to provide consular service in Syria” but would try to help him.
Goodale said Tuesday that Global Affairs has an obligation to provide consular services to Canadian citizens wherever possible. But he noted “there are certain areas of the world that are particularly difficult and dangerous … where the provision of normal consular services are physically impossible.”
Goodale made it clear that Canada won’t put diplomats’ lives at risk in order to help individuals in dangerous areas, such as Syria where the alleged Canadian ISIL fighters are being held.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press