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Execution of Canadian John Ridsdel a major test for Trudeau on terrorism, say experts

by Andrew Russell (feat. Colin Robertson)

Global News
April 26, 2016

How Justin Trudeau deals with the killing of John Ridsdel, 68, a former Calgarian taken hostage by Abu Sayyah, will be a major test for his new government, say experts.

On Monday, one of two Canadian hostages — Ridsel, a former mining executive — was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines. Fifty-year-old Robert Hall, a Norwegian man and a Filipino all remain as hostages.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, says the incident poses challenges for Trudeau on several fronts including how his government responds to the rescue of the second Canadian hostage.

“It reinforces that terrorism is a global phenomenon and we can’t simply put our head in the sand in North America and pretend that we are safe from all the evils in the world,” he said. “It’s a challenge on the peacekeeping mantra in a sense that there are some places in the world where there is no peace to keep … Peacekeeping is not going to solve problems like ISIS or Abu Sayyaf.”

Speaking from Alberta, Prime Minister Trudeau said Canada is working to bring the terrorists to justice.

“We are working with international allies, specifically the Philippines to ensure that these terrorists, these criminals will be brought to justice,” Trudeau said during a press conference. “I do however want to make one thing perfectly crystal clear: Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists.”

Leuprecht says Canada has a no-ransom policy but there have been cases in the past, including the 2009 abduction of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, where extensive negotiations led to a successful release.

Ridsdel was kidnapped Sept. 21, 2015 along with fellow Hall. The Philippine military is still looking for him – and what happens next could change how Canadians look at the Trudeau government’s ability to deal with terrorism.

“The immediate challenge for the government is there is another Canadian hostage,” he said.  “So you have one Canadian hostage killed on your watch … If you now have the second Canadian hostage also killed then that’s a bit of a black mark on the government.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson said the kidnappings highlight the need for the Canadian government to work more closely with its security partners around the world.

“It’s a reminder we live in a dangerous world but you still have to do business and you still have to try, as best you can, to protect Canadian citizens who we actively encourage to get involved abroad,” said Robertson, a vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Robertson said this is not the first time the young Liberal government has been confronted with the terror issue, noting the recent Brussels attacks and the January attacks in Burkina Faso that killed six Quebecers.

“We do have to be vigilant and that includes security at home but also importantly working with our alliance partners around the world,” he said.

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae told Global News he had been working with the Canadian government to help secure the release of Ridsdel and Hall.

“It’s been a grueling, grueling process dealing with these terrible people, the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines,” he said. “I have to say the federal government responded to the family. Lots of communication through the embassy in the Philippines, and discussion about what could be done and how it could be done.”

On Tuesday, the Philippine military and police said “there will be no let up” in the effort to combat the militants and find the remaining hostages.


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