By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under pressure on Monday from his Conservative rival in the October election over the Britain’s decision to strip Jack Letts – dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the media – of his British citizenship.
Letts had dual Canadian-British citizenship, and his father, John Letts, has said he hopes Canada can get him out of the Kurdish prison where he has been held for about two years. Letts left Britain for Syria voluntarily in 2014.
Canada has not responded directly, but said on Sunday it had “no legal obligation to facilitate” the return of Canadian citizens held in Syria, and that it would not comment on “specific cases or national security measures.”
“‘Jihadi Jack’ is in prison now and that is where he should stay. A Conservative government under my leadership will not lift a finger to bring him back to Canada,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement to Reuters.
Britain’s decision prompted a stern response from Canada. In a statement on Sunday, Trudeau’s Liberal government said the U.K. was trying to “off-load” its responsibilities in the case.
The timing of the diplomatic dispute – just two months ahead of the election – is not good for Trudeau. Most polls show Scheer holding a slight lead nationally with just over two months to go before the Oct. 21 vote.
The decision to revoke Letts’ British citizenship was taken by former Prime Minister Elizabeth May’s government towards the end of July, two sources familiar with the matter said.
“Canada has certainly expressed its displeasure but nobody has gone berserk,” a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The same source, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the issue is not likely to upset the Group of Seven meeting next week in France, where Trudeau will meet with the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“The relationship is so much bigger than just this one case,” the source said.
Letts’ father disputed the “knee-jerk assumption” that his son fought with Islamic State while in Syria, but added that if his son had broken the law he should be tried, according to an interview with Canada’s Global News radio on Sunday.
“If Jack Letts has done something wrong, I will be the first person to stand up and condemn him publicly and ask for him to go on trial and be punished for what he did,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler)