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Reality Check: What could happen if 'Jihadi Jack' comes to Canada?

Reality Check: What could happen if 'Jihadi Jack' comes to Canada?
From Global News - February 15, 2018

A vow by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian is being put to the test as consular officials grapple with how to respond to a request for repatriation by a British-Canadian man imprisoned by Kurdish authorities on suspicion of being a member of ISIS.

Kurdish forces imprisoned Jack Letts in May 2017 after he left the groups de facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa prior to its fall but his parents have said he was a tourist in Syria in 2014 when he was captured by terrorists and then fled.

READ MORE:What happens when an ISIS member returns to Canada? The story of one Toronto-area man

When asked what they are doing on the Letts case so far, British officials have said they are not able to provide consular support to nationals in Syria as there is currently no British consular representation in the war-torn country.

As CBC News reported last week, officials from Global Affairs Canada made contact in January with the man British media have dubbed Jihadi Jack and while they have reportedly not given any direct assurance they will be able to free him, they were quoted as saying they are working to resolve his situation, raising the question of what exactly could happen if he is freed and comes to Canada.

What are the options? Lets break it down.

Can he come to Canada and can the government stop him?

Effectively, there are easy answers to both: yes and no.

Canadian citizens have the constitutional right to return to Canada under Section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and attempts in the past by the federal government to impede those who do seek to return have been ruled to be violations of constitutional rights.

Take, for example, the case ofAbousfian Abdelrazik.

The Canadian-Sudanese man was detained and tortured in Sudan for six years while visiting family in the African country and was forced to sleep on a cot in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum while officials repeatedly made and broke promises to give him emergency travel documents to return home.

In 2009, the Federal Court ordered the government to repatriate him in a landmark and scathing ruling, and said that by attempting to block his return to Canada by not issuing travel documents, the government had violated his rights.

READ MORE:Government settles with Abdelrazik after grossly unfair leak, RCMP still investigating

The government settled in a court case with Abdelrazik in March 2017.

So the question of whether Letts could come to Canada if freed from prison is clear; however, the question of whether Canadian officials have a duty to provide consular assistance is less so.

The issue of providing consular assistance or not has traditionally been considered a discretionary matter, said Craig Forcese, a law professor specializing in national security at the University of Ottawa and a frequent witness before parliamentary committees studying national security legislation.

The government of Canada cant block his return in any real way so he can return, at which point the question is, What can they do if he arrives?'

What are the options?

There are several, not all of them involving charges but all with significant degrees of uncertainty.

First, it is important to be clear that while Kurdish authorities say they have charged Letts with being a member of ISIS, he is not facing any actual charges from Canada or Britain, and his family maintains that Letts did not go to Syria to fight for ISIS.

Second, the issue of prosecutingany individual who returns to Western countries from the conflict in Iraq and Syria has repeatedly proved challenging for authorities, with only two charges laid against Canadians who have returned from fighting abroad.

WATCH ABOVE:How the RCMP deals with terrorist fighters returning to Canada

The reason it is so difficult to investigate and lay charges against individuals returning from war zones contains several factors: among them, a lack of diplomatic presence on the ground in Syria or the lack of reliable information that can hold upor even be disclosedin a court of law.

Intelligence collected by Canadian or allied spies is also notoriously difficult to use in court given information presented as evidence in court becomes part of the public record and in some cases could jeopardize either ongoing intelligence activities in the region or reveal more information than officials are comfortable with about exactly how they got the information in the first place.

What about extradition?

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