OTTAWA — The parents of Jack Letts, a British-Canadian man imprisoned in northern Syria, are chastising Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer for saying he wouldn’t lift a finger to help their son.
Scheer might react differently if his own child was locked in a foreign dungeon without access to a lawyer or contact with his family, John Letts and Sally Lane said in a statement distributed Thursday.
The couple, who live in Oxford, England, said it is time for Canadian politicians to show leadership and demonstrate that Ottawa is able to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
Questions about the fate of Jack Letts, who is being held in a Kurdish jail in Syria, recently resurfaced following word that Britain had revoked his citizenship.
Letts’ parents said their son, who still holds Canadian citizenship, went to Syria for religious and humanitarian reasons, not to fight for the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
It is irresponsible of Scheer, and the U.K. government, to “pass the buck” and let other countries deal with the westerners being held in Syria following the demise of ISIL, they said.
Last year, John Letts accused Scheer and his colleagues of falsely stating Jack was a terrorist who had gone abroad to fight with the terrorist organization.
“Mr. Scheer and his colleagues have continued to spread lies about our son in order to appear to be ‘tough on terrorism,’” the parents’ statement said.
“In 2018 we offered to show him all of the evidence we had about Jack, including undisclosed court documents that we believe prove his innocence. He refused to speak to us.
“Mr. Scheer knows that every time he calls our son ‘Jihadi’ Jack (as the British press has done for five years) he condemns him in the mind of those who are unable to distinguish between ‘fake news’ and the truth, and drives another nail into our son’s coffin.”
A few Facebook messages allegedly sent by Jack show an “extremist mindset,” but he insists his account was hijacked by ISIL and that he did not send them, the statement added.
The parents said they also have evidence from a human-rights lawyer who visited their son that the only other potentially incriminating statements from Jack — during interviews with the BBC and ITV — were made under the threat of torture.
“Our son is a hostage, not a ‘prisoner.’”
Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Scheer, said Thursday in response to the statement that the Conservative leader has been crystal clear. ”He would not lift one finger to bring this self-described terrorist to Canada.”
Neither the Opposition Conservatives nor the governing Liberals expressed enthusiasm this week for trying to secure Letts’ release.
Asked Monday if he would welcome Letts to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would only say it is a crime to travel internationally with the aim of supporting terrorism. “And that is a crime that we will continue to make all attempts to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Canadian government expressed disappointment Sunday that the United Kingdom had moved to “off-load their responsibilities” by stripping Letts’ British citizenship.
Like many Muslims, Jack wanted to help the people of Syria and naively thought that ISIL would build a genuine Islamic society after the collapse of the Syrian regime, said his parents’ statement.
Once inside ISIL territory he realized his mistake, but anyone caught trying to escape was either crucified or decapitated, they said.
Jack got married in Iraq and lived far from the war until his house was destroyed in an air strike and he was taken to Raqqa for medical treatment, the statement added.
While Raqqa was the headquarters of ISIL, it was also the centre of opposition to the regime and Jack worked with others to condemn the group publicly for being “un-Islamic.”
“He was imprisoned and tortured, but escaped from house arrest and went into hiding.”
For more than two years, he has been detained in Quamishi, capital of the Kurdish-controlled region of Rojava in northeastern Syria.