The Canadian government is not relenting on its policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists, even after the murder of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel.
Ridsdel was one of four people taken hostage Sept. 21, including fellow Canadian Robert Hall. The whereabouts and fate of the three remaining hostages is still unknown.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wants to make it “crystal clear” the Canadian government “does not and will not pay ransom to criminals, directly or indirectly.”
Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Kananaskis, Alberta, explained how ransom payments are a vital source of money for terrorists and paying hefty sums for hostages to be released would only put more Canadians abroad at risk.
That’s not what Don Kossick wanted to hear. He and Ridsdel worked together in the 1970s at CBC in Regina.
As the ransom deadline loomed, Kossick spearheaded a letter writing campaign calling on the Trudeau government to not rule out any options.
And even though it’s too late for his friend, Kossick wants the feds to act in time to save Hall and the two other hostages.
Abu Sayyaf demanded approximately CAD $8 million for each of the Canadians, as well as Filipina hostage Marites Flor, Hall’s reported companion, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, the manager of the resort marina the four were kidnapped from last fall.
Prior to the confirmation of Ridsdel’s murder, the ransom demand for the release of the four hostages was not going in Abu Sayyaf’s favour. The Philippine police and armed forces have actively been trying to root out the militants and rescue as many as 22 foreign hostages the designated terror group is known to be holding for ransom.
In fact, the Islamist group initially demanded CAD $28 million for each person’s release, lowering the ransom demand following a one-month do-or-die deadline set in early March.
Even if the government was willing to consider paying a lower ransom for the release of hostages, dealing with a group like Abu Sayyaf is problematic, said Queen’s University political science professor Christian Leuprecht.
“This particular group would have been difficult to deal with from the beginning because they have a 25-year track record of extreme violence — including executing hostages,” he told Global News. “This is not a group that has been prone to successful negotiation for the release of hostages.”
Leuprecht pointed out an execution like this can sometimes be “staged for the sake of achieving maximum effect.”
Without money on the table, Leuprecht explained there has to be “some sort of incentives” for captors to consider releasing their captives.
Leuprecht noted Canada, unlike other countries, does not always rule out non-monetary negotiations with terrorist organizations. But, in this instance, the federal government denied reports it had dealt directly with Abu Sayyaf.
The government is also remaining tight-lipped about any other efforts it may have been involved in to help secure the release or rescue of Ridsdel and fellow hostage Hall.
It’s not officially known to what extent Ridsdel’s family may have been involved in negotiations with Abu Sayyaf, but family members said in a statement they did “everything within our power to bring him home.”
But it wouldn’t be unheard of if they had been trying to broker a deal without the government.
“Just because the government says that it does not pay ransom doesn’t necessarily mean that money never finds its way into such groups,” Leuprecht explained.
Leuprecht pointed to the 2009 release of Amanda Lindhout in Somalia as successful on two fronts — her captors, the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab, let her go after her family independently organized the ransom payment and the ransom broker in her abduction case is now being brought to trial in Canada.
“There’s evidence that the strategy the Canadian government has been using has brought some success,” he said. “I do think that we need to trust that what happens behind the scenes… has the best interests of Canada and the hostages at heart when it mounts attempts to try to free them.”