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hostage negotiations

Lorinda Stewart and her daughter, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout – who was held hostage in Somalia for 460 days from 2008 to 2009 – pose for a photograph in Toronto on Monday.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

On the 340th day of Amanda Lindhout's captivity in Somalia, her mother tried to reach the foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, to ask him if she could recruit a private negotiator.

Ms. Lindhout's mother, Lorinda Stewart, had been dutifully allowing Ottawa to control the hostage talks for nearly a year. But when she contacted Mr. Cannon's office in July, 2009, she was brushed off. "As this is the holidays and the House is not in session, it is possible that he is out of town," the minister's office told her.

"Our government had left us on our own," Ms. Stewart recalls in a new book, "and we were facing a new and harsh reality."

Ms. Stewart's book, One Day Closer, documents her marathon 460-day struggle to gain her daughter's release from Somali kidnappers – and highlights the risks of depending on Ottawa's guidance. It suggests that the government's insistence on controlling the hostage negotiations may have needlessly delayed Ms. Lindhout's release. And it accuses some officials of blatantly lying to her.

"After our unwavering allegiance to Ottawa, we began to realize the extent to which we had been skilfully managed through promises [and] lies," Ms. Stewart writes in the book. "It was a kick in the gut. I felt like a fool."

Read also: RCMP officer testifies man charged in Lindhout kidnapping case admitted he took ransom money

Ms. Lindhout and her fellow hostage, Nigel Brennan, may have endured "months of unnecessary suffering" because of the opaque and restrictive way that Ottawa controlled the negotiations, she says.

The book, released on Tuesday, will add fuel to the growing debate over Ottawa's handling of hostage cases. While federal officials boasted to Ms. Stewart that they had an "impeccable" record in hostage cases, Ms. Stewart finally had to turn to private negotiators to secure her daughter's release.

Ottawa was also unable to negotiate the release of Canadian hostages John Ridsdel and Robert Hall in the Philippines, and the Canadian hostage Joshua Boyle and his family in Pakistan. (Mr. Ridsdel and Mr. Hall were killed by their kidnappers, and the Boyle family was rescued by Pakistani troops.)

An RCMP spokeswoman, Annie Delisle, said it would be "inappropriate" for the RCMP to comment on Ms. Stewart's concerns at this time. She cited the current trial in Ottawa of a Somali man, Ali Omar Ader, on a charge of hostage-taking in connection with the Lindhout case.

A spokesman for the Global Affairs department, Philip Hannan, said the government "will not disclose operational efforts or planning" in hostage cases. "To do so would jeopardize current and future efforts and put the lives of hostages and others at risk," he said.

A federal ban on paying ransoms is still in place, he said. "However, on other areas of operations, we are looking very carefully at what we can learn and how we can do better," he said. "All hostage cases are priorities for Canada."

Ms. Stewart told The Globe and Mail that she hopes her book will help other families in hostage situations to realize that "there are more options than possibly they're being told."

The government must be more open with families, providing more information and a willingness to work with private security companies to speed up the process, Ms. Stewart said.

"A private security company has a lot more room and freedom to move around. I really feel that if they could find a way to work together, there could be faster progress in these cases."

Ms. Stewart had been the main contact for the Somali hostage-takers as soon as her daughter was kidnapped in 2008. But federal and RCMP officials pressured her into accepting their decisions in the case, even though the federal strategy ultimately failed, the book says.

A senior RCMP officer told her that Ottawa had a perfect record in hostage cases over the previous 17 years. Officials told her to use only federal negotiators and warned her that her daughter could die if she sought help from private security experts, the book says. They also told her that a ransom payment could technically be illegal – a law that still exists today, even though the United States dropped the rule two years ago.

Throughout the hostage saga, independent experts advised Ms. Stewart to use a private negotiator and raise ransom money. But she loyally followed Ottawa's instructions for the first 11 months, even when she was cut out of the negotiations for months at a time.

Federal officials set up a team in Nairobi to take control of the case – without Ms. Stewart's knowledge – and then instructed her to refuse any contact with the kidnappers so that the Nairobi negotiators could mediate with Somali clan elders, the book says.

The strategy failed, causing only tension with the kidnappers. But during the months when the officials insisted on this strategy, they pressured Ms. Stewart into ignoring all telephone calls from Somalia – even when her daughter was calling.

She says she received 29 calls from Somalia that she was not permitted to answer. At one point, an official even confiscated her cellphone. The stress of being unable to answer a call from her kidnapped daughter was "excruciating," and she cried and begged for permission to answer. "She's going to think I have abandoned her," she pleaded with one RCMP officer.

The officials also misled her about her daughter's location in Somalia and discouraged her from using a translator, despite the Somali negotiator's poor English, she says.

When she wanted to seek advice from a newly released hostage, CBC journalist Mellissa Fung, who had been held in Afghanistan, RCMP officials lied to her and told her that Ms. Fung was unavailable, even though in fact the journalist was eager to talk to her, the book alleges. She wrote to Ottawa and asked why the officials had lied to her, but got no response.

When Ms. Stewart eventually did use a translator and a private negotiator, she made progress much faster. "If there had been a translator between us from the beginning, it could have saved us months of guessing and misunderstandings," she says.

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