RCMP secretly ended probe into Canadian held by Taliban
Foreign Affairs told Mounties to close investigation into kidnapping and death
Last year, while Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs publicly insisted it was trying to aid a Canadian held for more than two years by the Taliban, it was privately telling the RCMP to stop investigating the crime.
Beverley Giesbrecht, a former businesswoman from Vancouver, was abducted in November 2008 while working as a fixer and journalist in Pakistan after she converted to Islam and adopted the name Khadija Abdul Qahaar.
In May 2011, the Department of Foreign Affairs revealed to CBC News that it believed Giesbrecht had died in captivity sometime in 2010, but a spokesperson added that it was continuing "to pursue all appropriate channels" to determine what happened.
Documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request, however, show that months earlier the department not only believed Giesbrecht was dead, but had told the RCMP it didn't need to investigate.
The revelation is contained in more than 370 pages of RCMP situation reports, some written by the RCMP liaison officer in Islamabad, Pakistan. The documents are marked "secret," and most of the material has been redacted.
But they show that that within days of Giesbrecht's kidnapping in November 2008, the RCMP launched what it called "Project Spiel." More than two years later, the RCMP's National Security Criminal Operations shut down Project Spiel, after Foreign Affairs requested an end to the investigation.
"As a result," one report says, "this investigation will no longer be active and the E&R project closed." E&R is an RCMP acronym for evidence and reporting.
Friends stunned by revelation
Debby Burke had maintained a close relationship with Giesbrecht, wiring her money so Giesbrecht could finish gathering interviews for a documentary, just weeks before her friend was abducted.
Burke had assumed Giesbrecht was dead. But she's stunned the Canadian government would discourage an investigation into what happened.
"I'm kind of in shock right now hearing all this," she told CBC News. "I'm just blown away right now."
Burke believes Giesbrecht was written off by Foreign Affairs and the RCMP in part because she adopted views that were sympathetic to the Taliban.
"I think she wasn't valued because she was a Muslim, and she was this kind of radical crazy woman, you know, as people knew her."
Burke is now demanding an explanation. "If it happened to me, she would have made a lot of noise," Burke said.
Glen Cooper was also stunned to learn Foreign Affairs called off the RCMP. Cooper aided the Mounties early on in the investigation by taking phone calls from his friend's kidnappers at his home in B.C.
"I'm surprised they [Foreign Affairs] would have told the RCMP to stop investigating without informing me," he said. If there's no reason to investigate, he wonders, "Where was she buried? What happened to the remains? If they know that I'd certainly like to know that."
Ransom reportedly fell to $1,200
One report, written months after Foreign Affairs requested the investigation be shut down, indicates that while Giesbrecht was alive, ransom demands fluctuated, but dropped as low as 100,000 Pakistani rupees, about $1,200 at the time.
"Of course, Canada has an official position not to pay ransom," Cooper said. "However, when you're talking numbers as low as $1,200.… I should have been informed of that, because I certainly would have thought about paying a small ransom to see if any movement could be made on this."
Salman Khan, Giesbrecht's Pakistani fixer, who was also kidnapped but later released, told CBC News in an email that he is "speechless" at hearing the investigation was abandoned.
"To be very honest," he wrote, "it makes me upset when I think about all this. Why was this case not taken seriously by anyone?"
Foreign Affairs would not explain why it asked the RCMP to end its investigation. After this story was published, department spokeswoman Aliya Mawani issued a written statement that, "as a matter of policy, DFAIT does not, and cannot, instruct the RCMP on any operational or investigative matter," adding that, "only the RCMP can make a decision to terminate an investigation."
The RCMP issued a terse and confusing statement about its investigation. Although the RCMP's own documents show Project Spiel was concluded, media relations officer Sgt. Greg Cox wrote "the RCMP does not comment on ongoing investigations."
Cox didn't reply to further requests for information, leaving Giesbrecht's friends at a loss to understand why her kidnapping was a crime worth investigating, but her death in captivity was not.