The brutal killing of Canadian John Ridsdel by Islamic radicals in the Philippines this week drew a harsh reaction from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau condemned the murder but went on to say that Canada will not pay a ransom to the group which continues to hold another Canadian prisoner. It’s not the first time that policy has been enunciated by a Canadian leader but it may be the first time that it’s actually been sincere. As Terry Glavin reports at The National Post, Canada has paid at least a million dollars in ransoms to terror groups in recent years. Glavin believes that Trudeau has subscribed to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s hardline on negotiating with extremists. Cameron has been appalled at his European counterparts lavish ransom payments which have helped to pour as much as $200 million into international terror groups over the last half-decade. Glavin believes Trudeau’s approach to the issue is “hard-headed” but “necessary”.
Not everyone shares that belief. Back in the summer of 2014 ISIS burst into the national consciousness with the public beheading of American journalist James Foley. The world was holding its collective breath for two weeks after that slaying wondering if another journalist being held by ISIS, Steven Sotloff, would meet a similar fate. It was in that interregnum that I first interviewed Gary Noesner, a former FBI hostage negotiator who had failed to secure the release of another American journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was killed by Islamic radicals in 2002. Noesner argues that while refusing to negotiate with terrorists sounds good, in reality the policy will only ensure the deaths of kidnapping victims. In a perfect world, he went on to say, no government would pay ransoms to radical groups but “the horse is already out of the barn.” The practice is unlikely to stop so therefore it makes more sense to save those that we can.
Others argue that it is the ransom payments that ensure future kidnappings, a vicious cycle that requires all Western governments abstain from the practice. Both the G7 and the United Nations Security Council have passed resolutions to that effect, both of which were promptly ignored by the signatories. Hard headedness may be required to deal with the kidnapping epidemic but it offers little comfort to the families of the men and women who remain in captivity.