Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says ransom payments are a key source of funding for terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will not pay Abu Sayyaf terrorists any ransom to release remaining hostages, which leaves open the question of whether Ottawa and its allies could launch a rescue mission to free those held by the Filipino jihadis.

"I do … want to make one thing perfectly crystal clear: Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly," Mr. Trudeau told reporters at the conclusion of a Liberal government cabinet retreat west of Calgary on Tuesday.

"Paying ransom for Canadians would endanger the lives of every single one of the millions of Canadians who live, work and travel around the globe every single year."

Story continues below advertisement

This terrorist crisis is a test of Canada's no-ransom policy. Some European governments, such as France and Italy, are believed to have paid ransoms to terrorists to release hostages in the past.

Canadian John Ridsdel was beheaded in the southern Philippines by Abu Sayyaf, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, after a ransom deadline was not met. Still alive and held by Abu Sayyaf are Canadian Robert Hall, Filipina Maritess Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, whom a source said is a permanent resident of Canada.

The government was not involved in the Ridsdel family's negotiations with the terrorists, but it was aware of what was happening, a well-placed source told The Globe. The ransom demanded was dropping, but the family was still unable to raise sufficient funds.

"The government is aware that the family was negotiating with the terrorists, and they knew what the demands were, and they knew the demands were changing, but the government never got involved in these talks," the source said.

Mr. Trudeau said Canada "is determined to bring these terrorist criminals to justice" and has talked to Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, whose government is coming under pressure to free remaining hostages.

Security experts say it would be very challenging for Canada and its allies to mount a military rescue operation to free remaining hostages held by Abu Sayyaf.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents and RCMP officers are believed to be on the ground in the Philippines along with Canadian military personnel, and sources tell The Globe and Mail authorities are assessing the risks of a rescue operation.

Story continues below advertisement

Security sources say the CIA, Australia's intelligence service and the Communications Security Establishment, which is Canada's ultrasecret signals intelligence agency, would be assisting the RCMP as the lead agency in seeking the release of the hostages.

Andy Ellis, the former assistant director of operations at CSIS and now president of Ellis Global Risk Assessment, said it would extremely difficult to detect where Abu Sayyaf is holding the hostages.

"It's naive to think that in a kind of a Hollywood way that people can be reached out and arrested. The islands that they control or have some sort of authority over are pretty desolate," Mr. Ellis said in an interview.

Retired colonel Steve Day, a former commander of the Canadian Armed Forces' elite Joint Task Force 2, said he could not see how a rescue operation could be carried out without knowing the pinpoint location.

"It is a significant tactical challenge to try and resolve," Mr. Day said. "You have all those islands; how do you get a force somewhat approximate to it without being detected? So do you launch from a neighbouring island? Are you going to launch from the sea?"

Mr. Ellis said Abu Sayyaf has a reputation as a "pretty mercenary" group that kidnaps Westerners for financial gain in support of its terrorist activities. It's very rare for the group to kill Western hostages, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

"Chopping off the head is saying you'd better pay for the remaining hostages or we are going to chop off their heads one after another," Mr. Ellis said. "It could have been a very cold calculation that [hostage negotiators] are buying time and we need to send a message we are impatient."

Mr. Ellis said Abu Sayyaf, once affiliated with al-Qaeda, is heavily concentrated in the Philippines and is now closely aligned with the Islamic State. However, he said the kidnappings have little to do with Islamist extremism and terrorism and more to do with raising money.

"This wasn't a kidnapping or murder because they are against Canada's previous role in Afghanistan or our current role in Iraq," he said. "This is just grab-a-Western and ransom.… I would suggest it is a lot more mercenary than it is terrorism."

The RCMP and the federal Department of Global Affairs have the key responsibility for negotiating the release of hostages, but they are not allowed to discuss ransom payments, which are an offence under Canadian law.

A former high-ranking CSIS officer, who is a senior executive with an international security firm that has handled ransom payments with Mexican drug cartels, said kidnapping negotiations are usually handled through back channels.

"[Global] Affairs would put somebody in touch with the Filipino government who might know a back channel. They might know a journalist who has access to the terrorists. That is the usual route," said the executive, who asked not to be identified. "It would be back channel, privately done. The Canadian government could facilitate some introductions while they couldn't be privy to the discussions. The government can't be involved in it."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Trudeau said he talked to British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday and they both agreed a no-ransom policy remains the best approach.

The Canadian Prime Minister told reporters the two leaders agreed to press allies to stop paying ransoms to terrorists.

"We had a very direct conversation. The U.K. does have a very firm position, like Canada, of not paying ransom and we agreed it is something we are going to make sure we do bring up with our friends and allies around the world," he said.

"This is a significant source of funds to terrorist organizations that then allow them to continue to perpetrate deadly acts of violence against innocents around the world."

Questions remain about whether Ottawa paid a ransom in 2009 to release Canadian diplomats Bob Fowler and Louis Guay. They were freed after months in the captivity of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb after a ransom was paid.

As The Globe and Mail reported in 2011, U.S. government memos were leaked that showed U.S. officials angry at the Canadian government for contributing to the ransom cash. In memos from the field cabled to Washington, U.S. envoys expressed fears the ransom deal paid in part by Canada encouraged "nefarious elements throughout the Sahel to continue targeting Westerners for abductions."

Story continues below advertisement

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies