Canada The RCMP is now telling Canadian hostages’ families they won’t be prosecuted for negotiating with kidnappers

06:20  14 february  2018
06:20  14 february  2018 Source:   thestar.com

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Canadian hostages ’ families they won ’ t be prosecuted for negotiating with kidnappers . Canadian hostage -taking victim Robert Hall aboard his sailboat Renova in April, 2015. Stewart is not optimistic the RCMP will be more forthcoming sharing intelligence with families , despite the addition

The RCMP is now telling Canadian hostages ’ families they won ’ t be prosecuted for negotiating with kidnappers . The change follows a 2016 Star investigation detailing Ottawa’s broken response to overseas hostage -takings.


Canadian hostage-taking victim Robert Hall aboard his sailboat Renova in April, 2015. Hall was killed by his Abu Sayyaf captors after 266 nights held hostage in the Philippines.© Provided by Toronto Star Canadian hostage-taking victim Robert Hall aboard his sailboat Renova in April, 2015. Hall was killed by his Abu Sayyaf captors after 266 nights held hostage in the Philippines.

Families who have endured the kidnapping of a loved one abroad are hailing a quiet transformation in the way Ottawa responds to hostage-takings, saying reforms made public this week are overdue and badly needed to ease the despair of the next Canadian family victimized.

To date, there has been no formal announcement of changes to the government’s hostage response protocols, which came under intense public scrutiny after the beheadings of two Canadian hostages in the Philippines nearly two years ago.

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Canadian hostages ’ families they won ’ t be prosecuted for negotiating with kidnappers . Both changes announced by the RCMP this week were recommendations captives’ families with how the RCMP is working to improve its role in hostage situations,” Thomas told The Star Tuesday.

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But, in a rare glimpse inside an opaque system, a senior RCMP official on Monday confirmed publicly for the first time that Ottawa is now providing families with “comfort letters” that guarantee families who hire intermediaries to negotiate with kidnappers will not be criminally investigated.

Taking questions at the Senate national security and defence committee, Assistant Commissioner James Malizia also revealed the RCMP will provide hostages’ families with two liaison officers — one to arrange support, including mental-health assistance, the other to “ensure the family has a touch point should they require any information on the investigative side.”

On paper, those changes might not look like much — but they represent a sea-change in the RCMP’s approach to hostage-takings, according to Bonice Thomas, whose brother Robert Hall, 66, was killed by the Abu Sayyaf Group on June 13, 2016, after 266 nights held captive in the southern Philippines.

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OTTAWA — The royal Canadian mounted police ( RCMP ) has sometimes been insured to insurance companies that they would not be accused of having negotiated with the kidnappers on behalf of the families of hostages canadians , revealed a top official of the police.

The RCMP is now telling Canadian hostages ’ families they won ’ t be prosecuted for negotiating with kidnappers . The change follows a 2016 Star investigation detailing Ottawa’s broken response to overseas hostage -takings.

Thomas and many of her relatives were among the RCMP’s harshest critics in the wake of her brother’s murder. They detailed the disrespect they felt in an eight-part Toronto Star investigation that revealed how Ottawa’s broken response to a 21st-century kidnapping crisis left captive Canadians in danger, and their families in anguish.

Both changes announced by the RCMP this week were recommendations captives’ families expressed to the Star in the 2016 series.

In the nearly 15 months since the series was published, Thomas has fought to ensure no Canadian family ever feels that way again. In behind-the-scenes meetings with senior RCMP officials, she pushed for what both sides informally describe as the “Renova Protocols” — named for the sailboat her brother was abducted from during a rainy night in 2015 — to transform how the Mounties approach the crisis.

“I have to say I am particularly impressed with how the RCMP is working to improve its role in hostage situations,” Thomas told The Star Tuesday. “They are offering not just words but real action in improving how they deal with the families of the hostages and they are not afraid to say they’ve learned how to do it better.”

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A senior RCMP official for the first time this week confirmed Ottawa has quietly overhauled how it handles international kidnapping cases involving Canadians . The change follows a 2016 Star

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The reforms, Thomas hopes, now will spread more broadly to involve other government branches tasked with hostage crisis response, including Global Affairs Canada and Canada’s spy agency, among others.

“What was said aloud at Monday’s hearing — together with what I’ve learned behind the scenes — tells me the government understands it needs to do better, it wants to do better and it intends to do better for Canadian hostages and their families.

“It would have been nice to hear some humility around the table. I would prefer more transparency, a sincere acknowledgement of past mistakes. It suggests to me they want to implement change quietly, with minimum embarrassment.”

Hall was captured along with another Canadian, John Ridsdel, who was also killed by Abu Sayyaf, in April 2016.

Read more:

What Canada should do when its citizens are kidnapped abroad

Rescue, ransom, escape or death are the only four outcomes for hostages

Canada does not negotiate with terrorists. Except …

In 2015, after the White House faced similar criticism from relatives of American hostages, then-president Barack Obama overhauled U.S. policies and directly apologized to families for past failures.

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Canadian hostage John Ridsdel was dead, the prime minister acknowledged in words Or they seek assurances they will not be prosecuted . The law says they cannot negotiate , or enrich terrorists. The RCMP would help the families in coaching them how to speak with the kidnappers during calls.

“I acknowledged to them in private what I want to say publicly: that it is true that there have been times where our government, regardless of good intentions, has let them down,” Obama said, following a White House meeting with relatives. “I promised them that we can do better.”

“My message to families is simple: We’re not going to abandon you; we will stand by you,” he said.

Lorinda Stewart, whose daughter Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped in Somalia while travelling as a freelance journalist in August 2008, was happy to hear Ottawa is making changes, but doesn’t think they go far enough.

Stewart is not optimistic the RCMP will be more forthcoming sharing intelligence with families, despite the addition of a liaison officer tasked to do just that. “The families won’t get any more information on their case because of the government’s security policies,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.

“It may make them feel better thinking that they are getting real updates, until they realize that someone has been hired to manage them and that all they are getting is crumbs that amount to pretty much nothing.”

Stewart wrote of her frustration with the RCMP’s handling of her daughter’s case in her book, “One Day Closer.” She wrote the police force’s negotiators advised her against raising ransom, or hiring outside help, and thrust her into the role as the kidnappers’ main contact even though she did not know what Ottawa was doing behind the scenes.

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OTTAWA — A senior RCMP official says the national police force has sometimes assured private companies they won ' t be prosecuted for dealing with hostage -takers on behalf of desperate Canadian families . James Malizia, the RCMP assistant commissioner for national security, told a

At times during Lindhout’s captivity, Stewart wrote, her phone rang constantly as she worried her daughter would be calling. “At one point, the negotiator on duty that day told me that if I tried to answer the phone he would rip it out of the wall,” Stewart wrote. “That comment hurt and puzzled me. I had pretty much been a model co-operative agent.”

A year later, the RCMP withdrew from the Lindhout case due to “lack of progress.”

Stewart said she felt abandoned.

“I think the families need someone to come in and have a very honest discussion about their options,” Stewart said on Tuesday. “It was not fair to us when we were threatened that the government would drop our case if we looked at other options.”

Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan spent a total of 460 days in captivity. After the RCMP dropped their case, Stewart and Brennan’s family hired private security firm AKE to negotiate the pair’s released in exchange for $600,000 ransom.

While the law in Canada remains the same — providing material support to a terrorist organization is a criminal offence — the “comfort letters” would offer assurance that private contractors like AKE would not be prosecuted.

In previous kidnap cases, RCMP officials had been known to warn families they could face up to 10 years in prison for financing terrorist groups.

Stewart says she hopes the guarantee also protects hostages’ relatives from prosecution.

The RCMP later charged Somali national Ali Omar Ader in Lindhout’s kidnapping, bringing him to Canada in an elaborate sting operation. He was found guilty during a 10-day December trial and will be sentenced next month.

As senators digest Monday’s committee testimony, the elected side of Parliament is also probing Canada’s hostage response protocols as part of a broader consular study spearheaded by NDP MP Hélène Laverdière, who served overseas as a Canadian foreign service officer prior to her election in 2011.

“Canadians want to know what kind of help the government can provide when things go seriously wrong overseas … and we hope that witness testimonies over the coming weeks will provide insight into what the government can do better, and the roles and relevant expertise of different government agencies involved,” Laverdière told The Star.

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