Canada has provided limited consular services to Canadians detained in Syria, including accused ISIS fighter "Jihadi Jack" Letts, CTV News has learned.
Letts, a former dual Canadian-British citizen who recently had his British citizenship revoked, has been held in a Kurdish prison for two years after going to Syria in 2014 at age 18 and crossing into ISIS-held territory.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that consular services cannot be provided to Canadian citizens in Syria because of "undue risk in this dangerous part of the world."
CTV News has confirmed that the Canadian government did in fact provide very limited consular services to Letts and other Canadians detained in Syria. A Canadian government source would not specify to CTV News whether these services were delivered by another government or a third party, such as the Red Cross.
"The Government of Canada is engaged in these cases and is providing assistance -- to the limited extent possible," Barbara Harvey, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, confirmed to CTV News in an email.
"Canadian diplomats have established a communications channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts of some Canadian citizens. Reports of an agreement concerning the repatriation of Canadian citizens from Syria are false."
Consular services can cover a gamut of assistance to travelling Canadians, for instance during a medical emergency or when legal issues arise. Officials can provide services for everything from providing a list of local lawyers to ensuring Canadians are treated fairly under a country’s laws if they are arrested or detained.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters in Toronto that it’s "disturbing" that the government has provided consular services to Letts.
In the meantime, a debate is also raging about whether Canada should take in Letts -- who was born and raised in England.
"I hope Canada does take me from here. I could go there, to prison of course. If I’m really a Canadian citizen, why haven’t they taken me by now?" Letts said in an interview with ITV News.
While Goodale has said Canada is under "no legal obligation to facilitate" the return of Canadian citizens in Syria, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't confirmed whether or not Letts will be allowed into the country. When reporters pressed the Trudeau on the issue, he simply reiterated that it is illegal to travel abroad to support terrorism.
"It is a crime to travel internationally with a goal of supporting terrorism or engaging in terrorism, and that is a crime that we will continue to make all attempts to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. That is the message we have for Canadians and for anyone involved," Trudeau said, speaking to reporters in Quebec City on Monday.
Meanwhile, Letts was contrite about in a recent interview. In a Sky News exclusive broadcast from Northern Syria on Tuesday, Letts said he "had a lot of ignorance" when he decided to go to Syria because he "didn’t know his religion properly."
"If I had known Islam properly and had studied it properly before I left Britain, I would have realized that these people are very, very bad people and I wouldn't have been in the situation I'm in now," Letts said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also weighed in on the issue. He says he "wouldn’t lift a finger to try to get Jihadi Jack back to Canada."
"He's in prison now, that’s where he should stay," Scheer told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday.
The Conservative leader also accused Trudeau of thinking that returning ISIS fighters "can be rehabilitated and should take poetry lessons."
As for Letts, he told Sky News that in prison, "One of the worst things…is knowing that I can't actually do anything to put it right."
"If I could do something to help and stop people from making the same mistake I did, I'd love to do that, of course. I think that would be great. I'd consider it a part of my religion actually," Letts said.