The kidnapping of two Canadians by Filipino jihadists who've sworn allegiance to Islamic State is the first time Justin Trudeau has been forced to directly confront a terror crisis as Prime Minister.
It's also a test of the Canadian government's no-ransom policy where Ottawa refuses, at least on the record, to pay captors for the release of Canada's citizens.
One of the two Canadians – 68-year-old businessman John Ridsdel – has already been killed and a second, Robert Hall, 50, remains a prisoner of the Abu Sayyaf militants in southern Philippines where this terror group enjoys a safe haven in the Mindanao region.
Mr. Trudeau emerged from a cabinet retreat at a mountain resort west of Calgary Monday to express outrage at Mr. Ridsdel's murder and he vowed to help pursue the killers, but the Prime Minister declined to take any questions, including on whether Canada was negotiating with Abu Sayyaf or entertained ransom demands.
According to Filipino media, the jihadist group regularly asks for up to 300-million Philippine pesos – more than $8-million Canadian – when it seeks ransom for hostages.
The big challenge for the young Liberal government is that this tragedy has unfolded out of the operational reach of Canadian authorities. They must rely on the counterterror capacity of the Philippines government that security analysts such as Wesley Wark consider weak.
The fight against terrorism has not been a front-burner priority for the Liberals, who have set a largely domestic agenda for themselves.
The Trudeau government, like Liberal predecessors before it, has been reluctant to make the fight on terror a central part of the face it presents to Canadian voters. Mr.Trudeau's first budget offered $8-million over two years to combat "radicalization" in Canada but little else in new funding to help Canadian police or security agencies fight terrorism of the kind that struck Belgium in March.
Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, a friend of Mr. Ridsdel, said he was helping work behind the scenes to obtain his release. He told CTV's Power Play that the Canadian government was "very directly involved" in trying to help the Ridsdel family as they tried to negotiate with the terrorists.
"Right up to the Prime Minister of Canada, every senior Canadian minister and public official has been involved on a regular basis in assessing how to deal with this crisis," Mr. Rae said.
A government official on Monday confirmed that the Canadian government's position remains that it does not pay ransom to kidnappers. The official declined to comment further, including regarding the 2009 case of Canadian diplomats Bob Fowler and Louis Guay, who 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 American 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 that the ransom deal paid in part by Canada encouraged "nefarious elements throughout the Sahel to continue targeting Westerners for abductions."
The source of the ransom money in the Fowler and Guay case remains a mystery today.
Mr. Trudeau, for his part, said Monday that Canada will work with the government of the Philippines and others to "pursue those responsible for this heinous act and bring them to justice."
Mr. Wark said the Canadian government should be more assertive on this point and promise to track down the kidnappers no matter how long it takes. He said Canada should remind Abu Sayyaf of how the RCMP in 2015 managed to arrest and charge a Somali national they alleged was part of the 2008 kidnapping of freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout in Somalia.
He said Canada's difficulty is it has no direct capacity to stage rescues of the kind the United States sometimes attempts.
Mr. Trudeau declined further comment and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan remained mum Monday, deferring to Mr. Trudeau instead.