06.13.2016 07:57 AM

Killings in the Philippines, and more killings in Florida

The facts are wholly different, of course: in the former case, two Canadians – Robert Hall over the weekend, and John Ridsdel last month – were held hostage, and later beheaded, by an Islamic terror cell in the Phillippines when ransom was not paid.

In the latter case, many Americans – we don’t have all of their names yet – were held hostage, and/or shot to death, by an Islamic terrorist in Orlando, Florida.

The response of the Canadian government to Orlando was empathetic and appropriate: “We grieve with our friends in the US & stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ2 community after today’s terror attack,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

The government’s rhetorical response in the Ridsdel case was similar: “I am outraged by the news that a Canadian citizen, held hostage in the Philippines since Sept. 21, 2015, has been killed at the hands of his captors. Canada condemns without reservation the brutality of the hostage takers and this unnecessary death,” Trudeau said at a cabinet retreat in Alberta. Also appropriate.

If we are all honest with ourselves, however, the deaths of Ridsdel and Hall – unlike the deaths in Orlando – are no shock at all.  For many months, the federal government not only was refusing to communicate with their captors – they also seemed to be aggressively going out of their way to advertise their inflexibility to the world. See here and here and (especially) here.

Is paying ransom to terrorists desirable? No. The main argument against it, of course, is that it finances terror, and facilitates more killings and kidnappings. That’s obvious.

But here’s the thing: whether it’s Conservative or Liberal, the federal government routinely refuses to negotiate with terrorists – until it doesWhat the federal government says, and what it does, are usually quite different.  

Anyway: I’m completely torn on this.  What do you think? No negotiations, ever? Negotiations, but in secret?  Negotiate in the open?

(For what it is worth, there is an important historical precedent, here: during the FLQ crisis, Trudeau’s father permitted some negotiations to take place with the terrorists.  The end result was the release of James Cross – and the death of Pierre Laporte.)




  1. Étienne says:

    Negotiations in secret. Can’t just ignore kidnappings. Negotiating in secret gives more power to our negotiators for the other party won’t have solid info about what terms have been agreed to in the past.

  2. Peter says:

    Absolutely not “in the open”. Otherwise, no hard rules. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. This is akin to wartime strategy and is one subject on which it is perfectly legitimate to keep everyone in the dark and leave it to the professionals. I wouldn’t mind in the least if the government was saying one thing and doing another, even to the extent of misleading Parliament.

  3. davie says:

    People and organizations with the power to grab other people do so for a variety of reasons: money, safe passage, information, goods, terror – that is force someone else to behave, for the safety of the person grabbed, to prevent wrong doing,…and so on. It is an old behaviour, grabbing other people and holding them captive. (I often think of the many hostage for ransom incidents in Europe’s Middle Ages, and Cervantes half dozen or so years in Algiers while his family in Spain cobbled together a ransom.
    In the Philippines case, above, it looked like the opening of bargaining, and invitation to negotiate. I figure we should negotiate, especially if it is about money. (I agree that some money might be spent on weapons…but, I don’t know for sure. It might be to buy food for their kids, for all I know.)

    As for the Florida murderer, I have not seen anything indicating what he was bargaining for.

    We have had stern pronouncements about not negotiating with terrorists for many years, yet hostage takings still happen, so the policy hasn’t worked that well.

  4. dean sherratt says:

    There will arise at some point in time the Robert Fowler exception…a former senior Canadian public servant on a mission which the government supports. This of course took place and a ransom was paid, though denied by the previous government. The government will look awful if it eventually picks and chooses those for whom it will negotiate a release.

  5. patrick says:

    I expect the government to be completely two faced about this and approve. All kidnappers should have doubt that there will be any type of exchange so there will be doubt that such actions will be effective. Then, behind the scenes, try and do what you can, depending on the circumstance and then deny everything if successful. And accept, occasionally people will die. It can be a really ugly world.

  6. Francis says:

    I agree with Patrick’s comments above; I wholly expect governments to be hypocritical about this because it 1) establishes a facade of a principles policy and 2) puts hesitancy in the minds of those seeking to take hostages.

    If, for example, our explicit policy was to negotiate without reserve in order to save a life, then we’ve perpetuated a reliable self sustaining cycle of hostage-taking wherein hostage-takers will place more confidence in the economy of ransoms. Governments would then have to negotiate in every circumstance because they’ve overtly set a precedent from which it is difficult to back off from.

    If, like Trudeau is attempting to do, we establish a consistent non-negotiable policy towards hostage scenarios across the world then kidnappers can’t rely on any guarantee of outcome. Governments can choose when they have the best probability of a positive exchange without setting a precedent — but that control rests in the hands of governments.

    But like Patrick said, we have to accept the reality of the occasional death in these situations. Citizens from countries like Canada, US or UK travel to dangerous places of the world at their own peril. Part of making these trips is accepting the increased possibility of danger. If we go in to save every hiker/self-proclaimed explorer from pirates, terrorists or kidnappers then we’re only encouraging more people to take risks.

    Either way, each situation has to be looked at individually and realistically. On the front, governments need to maintain a strict no-go policy to protect themselves from perceived vulnerabilities.

  7. Pipes says:

    I am held hostage. What happens next?

    In a separate occurrence…

    A Prime Minister is held hostage. What happens next?

    Pretty sure we all know the answer.

  8. Steve says:

    It’s called JTF-2. We have the specialists who could have resolved this differently. But that is swinging a hammer and that offends too many. Only have to take care of business a few times and the word will be to leave Canadians alone.

    • bluegreenblogger says:

      Well that is an interesting point you raise. You see, whilst any practicing economist can tell you that paying Ransoms will result in many more deaths than not paying them. Negative consequences do not work the same way. If they did, then law and order freaks would be correct, and ever harsher penalties would effectively reduce crime. But actual behavioral scientists have proven, again, and again, that people making such decisions remained strangely and irrationally biased. They believe that the things they want will come to them despite the odds against, and believe that they will avoid capture/killing or whatever you are proposing. So it will not have any impact, other than to kill a few random criminals.

      • Steve says:

        The aim would always be to save lives, Canadian or otherwise. Terrorist lives would, by necessity, be collateral damage.

        • bluegreenblogger says:

          Yes, but as I said, no lives will be saved. Some chests would undoubtedly be thumped, but as a policy prescription, smoke and mirrors.

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    You know my position. I would rather pay and be wrong than not pay, and be heartless.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Forgive the legalese: when you find out who was Nigel Barry Hamer’s girlfriend, you will have your answer.

  11. bluegreenblogger says:

    Hmm. Moral Hazard is definitely a thing. I can tell you that there are many well documented sociological experiments that effectively PROVE that paying ransoms will kill far more people than not paying them. It is the same problem as removing deductibles from your insurance payout. Deductibles magically reduce claims. Ransoms magically increase kidnappings. Collectively we need such policies. But if it is my loved ones, who gives a care about a theoretical harm to some un-imagined strangers. The policy is sound, but individuals will continue to pay ransoms where and when they can.

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