Canada should appoint kidnapping czar as part of hostage approach, says ex-CSIS expert

Canada should consider appointing a kidnapping "czar" and find a more standardized approach when Canadians are kidnapped abroad, says a former senior member of CSIS who now heads up a private security firm.

Former CSIS assistant director says government needs to rethink how it handles hostage-takings abroad

Does Canada need a better hostage strategy?

6 years ago
Duration 8:08
Former CSIS assistant director of operations Andrew Ellis on what the government needs to do for families of kidnapping victims.

Canada should consider appointing a kidnapping "czar" and adopt a more standardized approach when Canadians are kidnapped abroad, says a former senior member of CSIS who now heads up a private security firm.

A permanent government point person directing efforts to free Canadians held for ransom would bring continuity to the federal government's approach to resolving hostage takings, said Andy Ellis, a former assistant director of operations at Canada's national intelligence agency.

Ellis is currently doing pro bono work on two kidnapping cases involving Canadians.

As kidnapping becomes an industry, I think it requires an industrial response.- Andy Ellis, security consultant

In an interview with CBC's Power & Politics Thursday, Ellis said the role would help streamline efforts between the departments responsible for responding to kidnappings.

The government should also be prepared to turn to the private sector for input and assistance in kidnapping cases, he said.

"As kidnapping becomes an industry, I think it requires an industrial response," Ellis told host Rosemary Barton.

The recommendation comes after CBC's special report on the abductions and killings of Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel in the Philippines by the militant group Abu Sayyaf.

In the wake of their deaths earlier this year and criticism of the government's handling of the case, there have been calls to improve Canada's hostage policy.

In 2009, the family of Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout, held captive by the Islamist group al-Shabaab in Somalia for 15 months, turned to London-based private security firm AKE after efforts by the Canadian government to secure her release failed. 

Ellis argues that partnerships with private firms such as AKE would increase the opportunities to save the lives of Canadian citizens.

Canadian Robert Hall, left, and John Ridsdel, shown in a video released by Abu Sayyaf, were abducted in the Philippines in 2015 and killed earlier this year by Abu Sayyaf militants. (Site Intelligence Group/YouTube)

But Ellis also says the suggestion by a senior government source this week that governments cannot even be seen to be helping families behind the scenes is "ridiculous."

For the first time, Canada's public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, also commented on some of the criticism from the families.

"We can always learn from past circumstances and try to improve procedures in the future, but no one should doubt that in those terribly painful situations, the agonizing decisions that need to be made and the other support services that need to be provided are dealt with conscientiously at the very highest level," he told CBC News. 

Better communication, better integration needed

The families of Hall and Ridsdel and some experts have urged the Trudeau government to review what support it provides to families and consider creating U.S.-style "fusion cells" to improve co-ordination between departments, including the RCMP, Global Affairs Canada and CSIS. The cells are specialized units comprised of staff from across departments with expertise in kidnappings.

"It's certainly an option that should be examined," said NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé.

"Whenever we can have better communication, better integration between government departments, that can help better communicate things and speed up the process when we are dealing with these kinds of situations that can change rapidly.

"And these rapid changes can have great cost, human cost, I think it's certainly something we should look at." 

One of Hall's cousins, Lois Eaton, has now launched an e-petition with the House of Commons calling on the government to offer better consular services for kidnapped citizens and create a special unit for dealing with the issue. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly stated that the Canadian government will not pay ransom or negotiate with terrorist entities. In May, he led a push amongst G7 leaders to "unequivocally reject the payment of ransoms to terrorists."

with files from Rosemary Barton