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Jack Letts: parents ask federal authorities to help their son in Syrian camp


BARRIE – The parents of a Canadian held in a detention center in northeastern Syria since 2017 are once again asking the Canadian federal government to help them repatriate their son.

Jack Letts, named “Jihadi Jack” by British media, was a bright teenager from Oxford, UK, with a gift for language learning, his father, John Letts, told CTVNews.ca.

Jack Letts, who was baptized a Catholic, converted to Islam as a teenager.

“There was no problem with radicalization like the papers said or something,” John Letts said, adding that at the time he and his wife “met all the [Jack’s] friends ”who were religious.

“We weren’t particularly worried,” he said.

In 2014, Jack Letts moved to Kuwait to study Islamic studies – a decision John Letts said he and his wife supported.

“He went to Kuwait, checked in, lived in a place and the course was starting,” John Letts said. “And then the next thing we found out was a phone call that he was in Syria.”

John Letts said he never had an explanation as to why his son left Kuwait for Syria, but said Jack would tell him “regularly” on phone calls that he was ” the same “child and that he was not part of the” system “in Syria. .

John Letts said that the allegations presented by the British media that his son had gone to Syria to join ISIS were “hogwash”.

“I mean, where’s your proof of all this?” ” he said.

“All I can say is when he left I had no such concerns,” said John Letts. “And he also reassured us that he was not involved in ISIS when he made phone calls.”

In 2017, Letts was taken over by Kurdish forces. Since then he has been held in a camp in northeastern Syria.

According to a 2020 report released by Human Rights Watch, for months before his capture, Jack Letts told his parents he had tried to leave Syria.

The report states that in interviews with British media in prison, Jack Letts admitted to living under ISIS, but denied being a member, adding that the group had jailed him three times for opposing the Islamic State. its practices.

According to the family, in 2017 Kurdish forces said they wanted to hand Jack over to the UK, but the UK government refused to help, claiming a lack of a consular presence in the area.

In 2019, the British government revoked the citizenship of Jack Letts.

John Letts said he and his wife had not spoken directly to their son since his detention in Syria, having only received a handful of “sporadic” letters over the years.

The most recent letter arrived around Christmas of last year.

John Letts said the letter looked like Jack’s handwriting, but the content was “odd” and seemed “formal.”

“The honest truth is, I don’t know if he’s still there mentally,” he said. “He was tortured a lot. A human rights lawyer walked in and said Jack told him he had been tortured 15 times in the torture chamber.

Letts said that because they don’t get regular updates, the family aren’t even sure Jack is still alive.

“I hope he’s alive,” Letts said. “I guess he’s alive.”

According to John Letts, representatives from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) questioned his son in the detention center in Syria shortly after his capture.

Letts said he only received part of the transcript of that conversation.

“They never sent me the full transcript,” he said. “And it is very clear that Jack is talking about being tortured with electricity. [and] the hot box they put in the desert – all of that stuff. So Global Affairs knew about it and did nothing.

John Letts said early on that GAC said the agency would do what it could for their son, but said the family had received no support.

“So we don’t get anything at all, you send the message, they say, ‘We have no consular assistance,” he said. “And it’s interesting that the message is the same as the message. British: ‘We have no consular assistance, we can’t do anything. If there is, please update us.’ ”

CTVNews.ca contacted AMC to determine what consular services had been provided to the family.

In an emailed statement, the GAC said it was “aware that Canadian citizens are being held in Syria.”

“Given the situation on the ground, the capacity of the Government of Canada to provide consular assistance in Syria is extremely limited,” the statement said.

The agency said it “continues to monitor the situation very closely.”

“Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no other information can be disclosed,” the email said.

John said that although he believed his son was innocent, he “understood the public’s fear” of terrorism.

“I have family and friends in Canada, I understand this fear,” he said. “And the same in the UK, I know people who were seriously injured in the bombings in London. I understand that.”

“But, you know, so you lock people up innocently because they’re Muslims, or because they were stupid, and they were 18 and went to Syria?” ” He continued.

John Letts said that when Jack returns to Canada, he will face the legal system and be tried in a Canadian court for any crimes he may have committed.

If the court finds he committed a crime, John Letts said, the family thinks he should be punished or rehabilitated.

“I don’t believe in self-defense justice or the witch hunt, and I think that’s what is happening,” John Letts said. “So as a Canadian he should have the right to defend himself against charges based on no evidence except that he went there and that he is a Muslim.” “

He said he wanted the Canadian government to “act in accordance with the law and Canadian values” and “give someone who may be innocent a chance to prove it.”

In May 2021, lawyers for the family filed a formal complaint with the United Nations alleging that the inaction and action of the Canadian and UK governments violated Jack’s right to life.

The complaint also contends that both countries violated international law by arbitrarily or discriminating against consular assistance to Jack Letts.

The complaint also alleges that Canada acts in “bad faith” and only takes responsibility for its citizens when it is politically convenient for the country.

John Letts, who resides in the UK, is in Ottawa this week lobbying for help for his son.

“We have had many meetings with MPs, senators and journalists in Ottawa,” he said, adding that COVID-19 and the quarantine measures have complicated matters a bit.

First, John Letts said he wanted “confirmed evidence” that his son is still alive.

“It would be really nice as a parent to know that he is alive and not completely mentally broken down,” he said.

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