RCMP gives ‘com­fort letters’ for hostage help

Ottawa Citizen - - POLITICS - Jim Bronskill

OT­TAWA • A se­nior RCMP of­fi­cial says the na­tional po­lice force has some­times as­sured pri­vate com­pa­nies they won’t be pros­e­cuted for deal­ing with hostage-tak­ers on be­half of des­per­ate Canadian fam­i­lies.

James Mal­izia, the RCMP as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner for na­tional se­cu­rity, told a Se­nate com­mit­tee Mon­day that the pri­mary fo­cus for the force is the safe re­lease of the cap­tives.

As a re­sult, the Moun­ties have pro­vided so-called “com­fort letters” to pri­vate agen­cies — such as in­surance com­pa­nies — as­sist­ing fam­i­lies, say­ing they will not be crim­i­nally in­ves­ti­gated for ne­go­ti­at­ing with kid­nap­pers.

“If there is any­thing that we can do dur­ing a hostage­tak­ing that could as­sist or pro­vide a level of com­fort for agen­cies or com­pa­nies that they won’t be pros­e­cuted or pur­sued with re­spect to crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we have done that in the past. We have pro­vided com­fort letters,” Mal­izia said dur­ing a meet­ing of the Se­nate na­tional se­cu­rity and de­fence com­mit­tee. “So wher­ever we can col­lab­o­rate, we do, and there is an ex­change of in­for­ma­tion that will hap­pen around those is­sues.”

Since 2005, the Canadian gov­ern­ment has re­sponded to more than 20 cases that qual­ify as ter­ror­ist hostage cases, ei­ther be­cause a ter­ror­ist en­tity claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity, or a Canadian ci­ti­zen was taken hostage in an area where the sale or trade to an ex­trem­ist group ap­peared im­mi­nent, said David Drake, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the counter-ter­ror­ism, crime and in­tel­li­gence bureau at Global Affairs Canada.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has a long-stand­ing pol­icy against pay­ing ran­soms in hostage-tak­ings.

Drake told the sen­a­tors he is un­aware of a case in which the gov­ern­ment has di­rectly or in­di­rectly paid a ran­som.

The gov­ern­ment is firm in its re­solve to deny ter­ror­ists the re­sources they need to con­duct at­tacks against Canada, its al­lies and part­ners, Drake said. The fed­eral pay­ment of ran­som money would pro­vide in­cen­tive for ter­ror­ists to en­gage in hostage-taking, in­creas­ing the risk to Cana­di­ans abroad, he added.

Cana­di­ans John Rids­del and Robert Hall were ex­e­cuted in 2016 af­ter Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants did not re­ceive the large pay­ments they had de­manded.

Fam­i­lies some­times choose to work with agen­cies or pri­vate con­trac­tors to raise money and en­gage in ne­go­ti­a­tions with hostage­tak­ers, Mal­izia noted.

“This de­ci­sion is their de­ci­sion. We do not ad­vise such a course of ac­tion, how­ever,” he said.

James Mal­izia

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