RCMP gives ‘comfort letters’ for hostage help
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.