Calgary Herald



It’s a line made famous by Hollywood: We do not negotiate with terrorists. But a former Canadian diplomat says in reality, Canada and many other countries do get involved when their citizens have been kidnapped and held for ransom by terrorist groups. Which raises the question: What went wrong in the Philippine­s?

“I am outraged by the news that a Canadian citizen, John Ridsdel, held hostage in the Philippine­s since Sept. 21, 2015, has been killed at the hands of his captors,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told media in a hotel ballroom hastily equipped with Canadian flags and a black backdrop for the occasion.

Trudeau and his cabinet are on a three-day retreat in Kananaskis, Alta.

“Canada condemns without reservatio­n the brutality of the hostage takers,” he said.

Ridsdel, a 68-year-old mining executive and former journalist, was one of four people kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in September.

Trudeau said that with three hostages still in captivity, the government will “not comment or release any informatio­n to compromise ongoing efforts.” News of Ridsdel’s death came hours after a deadline set by the Islamic extremist group for the payment of $8.1 million in ransom for the four hostages.

Gar Pardy, former head of consular services at the department of foreign affairs, now known as Global Affairs Canada, said government­s always say they will not negotiate with terrorist groups and foreign criminals who kidnap their citizens.

“But the simple rule is: you always pay,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

There was reason for hope. Earlier this month, Abu Sayyaf released an Italian missionary taken in a separate kidnapping after receiving a ransom of $630,000. So why not Ridsdel?

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who was friends with Ridsdel, confirmed he had been working with the family to try to secure his release. Appearing on CTV’s Power Play program, Rae said the government was “very directly involved” in helping Ridsdel’s family deal with the kidnappers, but that Abu Sayyad refused to lower their demands.

“A ransom was paid for (the Italian captive), but it was nowhere near the amounts of money that continued to be bandied about (for Ridsdel),” he said. “It’s been an extremely frustratin­g and very, very difficult situation for the families to navigate.”

Rae, who also served as federal interim Liberal leader, said the government has a policy of not paying directly for a Canadian’s release, which he described as a “principled” position.

But Pardy said the reality is much more complicate­d.

“Your objective is to get your person released unharmed, and sometimes you have to leave others to fill


in the blanks,” he said. “You may not pay directly, but you pay through intermedia­ries.”

Ridsdel isn’t the first Canadian kidnapped and held for ransom by a terrorist group in recent years.

Some of the more prominent cases include former ambassador Robert Fowler, journalist­s Amanda Lindhout and Mellissa Fung, and Torontonia­n Colin Rutherford. In each case, the hostages were freed amid unconfirme­d reports that ransoms had been paid. In Fowler’s case, it’s believed the ransom was $1 million.

Negotiatio­ns can be extremely complicate­d, Pardy said. “You do need fairly steely nerves when you’re dealing with these things,” he said.

In August 2014, Britain’s Guardian newspaper found a growing industry in which insurance companies are offering kidnap and ransom insurance. Such insurance can be critical when kidnappers are demanding millions for their victim’s release, the article said.

The New York Times estimated around the same time that al-Qaida and its affiliates had made about US$125 million through kidnapping over the previous five years.

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