The House

Nathan Cullen on hostage experience: 'It's all madness'

NDP MP Nathan Cullen knows what it's like to have a gun pointed at his forehead. He opens up to Terry Milewski about his harrowing kidnapping experience.
A still image taken from an older video released by Abu Sayyaf militant kidnappers shows Canadians Robert Hall (left) and John Ridsdel (centre). The third male hostage is Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad. (Reuters/YouTube )

NPD MP Nathan Cullen says his experience as a hostage has coloured his ability to objectively say whether the government should pay ransoms to secure the release of Canadians held by terrorist groups abroad.

"I respect the policy that Mr. Trudeau has taken, and I understand it, but I also understand the desperation of the family and being willing to do anything to get that person back," he told Terry Milewski on this week's edition of The House.

Cullen was taken hostage by Colombian mercenaries nearly two decades ago while working for a non-governmental organization in northern Ecuador. While he was safely released within a few hours, an Ecuadoran colleague was held by the criminal group for several months while a ransom was negotiated for his release.

"I have huge, I don't know if you call it survivor's guilt, but thoughts that it should have been me. His experience, we found out after, was hell on earth. And so, why it was him, and not me, that's still something I think about," Cullen said.

In September, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were taken hostage by the Filipino jihadist group Abu Sayyaf. Ridsdel was beheaded Monday in the southern province of Sulu after ransom demands by the group went unmet.

Ridsdel's murder prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pledge to help the Philippines pursue those behind the "heinous act." Trudeau also clarified that "Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly."

Abu Sayyaf continues to hold 22 hostages from six countries, including Hall.

Cullen agrees that ransoms fund terrorist organizations and creates a market for further abductions, but questions the government's ability to prevent a family from independently paying a ransom demand.

"If you pay, then it will be another person, and another. But how far does Mr. Trudeau's power extend? If a family chooses to pay a ransom, who will stand in that family's living room and say no, you can't try to get your loved one back?"

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