I, like many Canadians was shocked and aghast with the murder of a Canadian hostage, held captive for over seven months in the Philippines. John Ridsdel was beheaded by the ISIS aligned Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, which took him hostage in September, along with three others. CNN reported:
“Ridsdel has been described as a “kind and gregarious person who touched everyone he knew with his enthusiasm and generosity.”
In a statement, Ridsdel’s family said he “loved life and lived it to the fullest with his family and friends at the center. He was loved by all his friends and adored by his daughters, sister and extended family.”
“Our family is devastated at the loss of our father and brother John Ridsdel whose life was cut tragically short by this senseless act of violence.”
Bob Rae, a close friend of Ridsdel, said “lots of effort” was made to respond to ransom demands but the amounts asked for were too high.”
Mr. Ridsdel’s remains were found the day after his murder when the ransom demands failed to be paid.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau tweeted this comment after finding out about the murder:
The Philippines security forces pledged that the full force of the law will be used to bring these criminals to justice.
There is something completely wrong here
PM Trudeau was elected with a majority government in October 2015, just a month after this kidnapping. There was silence on the news wires about this kidnapping and silence from our own government.
Our PM stated in his statement stated that:
“The Government of Canada is committed to working with the Government of the Philippines and international partners to pursue those responsible for this heinous act and bring them to justice.
“On behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Ridsdel. They have endured a terrible ordeal, and this is a devastating moment for all of them. Our thoughts are with them as they come to terms with this loss, and I would ask that the media respect their privacy at this difficult time.
“The Government of Canada’s first priority is the safety and security of its citizens. The Government of Canada will not comment or release information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of the remaining hostages.”
CNN stated that the rebel group announced that a ransom of P300 million was set for each of the hostages. It had initially asked for P1 billion for each hostage.
Three other hostages, Robert Hall, also Canadian; Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian; and a Filipina named Marithes “Tess” Flor, have yet to be released.
Well, Prime Minister Trudeau, your denunciations of terrorism and this murder is just not good enough!
THIS will become a major leadership issue for PM Trudeau. This is an international story and is putting Canada on the world stage to see how the Liberal Government is going to handle this crisis. Believe me this is a crisis. The Government should have been on top of this from the time they were elected last October. The PM is correct to denounce terrorism and the hostage taking, and to even state unequivocally that Canada will not pay ransom to terrorists officially, but something is clearly wrong here.
The Globalnation.Inquirer.net reported:
“The abductions highlight the long-running security problems hounding the southern Philippines, a region with bountiful resources that also suffers from poverty, lawlessness and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies.
“The Abu Sayyaf began a series of large-scale abductions after it emerged in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a separatist rebellion by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s south.
“It has been weakened by more than a decade of Philippine offensives but has endured largely as a result of large ransom and extortion earnings. The United States and the Philippines have both listed the group as a terrorist organization.”
What is our Canadian Government up to?
In light of this ongoing violence in the Philippines, why does the Canadian Government not strongly advise Canadians to restrict their travel to the county? Since the murder of Mr. Ridsdel, the government website that lists travel advisories has posted the following:
“There is no nationwide advisory in effect for the Philippines. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to an ongoing terrorist threat to Westerners and Western interests.
“Global Affairs Canada advises against all travel to the Mindanao Region, excluding urban areas of Davao City. The advisory applies to Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces, as well as to the Zamboanga Peninsula and the provinces of Davao del Sur, Sarangani, Lanao del Norte, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Cotabato, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, due to the serious threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. The Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance may be limited in this region”
Whether it was as a “private citizen” or on behalf of the government, former MP Bob Rae was involved the last six months in assisting the family to find a solution to this crisis. The Telegraph noted:
“Bob Rae, a former Liberal MP and university friend of Mr Ridsdel’s since the 1960s, said the family had been doing everything they could to secure his release.
“It’s hard. It’s just very hard,” he said. “I’ve been involved behind the scenes for the last six months trying to find a solution and it’s been very painful.”
Officials in the Philippines had said earlier that government forces were moving to rescue the two Canadians and the Norwegian.
“Whether things could have been done differently, it’s too soon for that to be said,” he added. “Certainly the family did everything they could to try to reach a solution.”
The Globe and Mail stated that the PM, in declaring that Canada would not pay ransom would in fact put all Canadian hostages in the Philippines in danger. The paper stated:
“Paying ransom for Canadians would endanger the lives of every single one of the millions of Canadians who live, work and travel around the globe every single year,” Mr. Trudeau said.
In the Philippines, however, history suggests the failure to pay a ransom will jeopardize the lives of those now the subject of an international manhunt, with Canadian authorities mulling sending their own personnel on a rescue mission.
“If there is no ransom payment, they will behead the victims. That is their usual practice,” said Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, who until early April led Joint Task Group Sulu, the military unit charged with the area where Abu Sayyaf maintains its strongholds.
Attempts to free captives by force often did not succeed. Out of 19 kidnapping victims during Brig.-Gen. Arrojado’s tenure, only three were saved by soldiers. The number of hostages rescued by military intervention equalled the number executed.
In the Philippines, local media reported that Mr. Ridsdel was killed after his family and friends raised a payment that amount to only a fraction of what Abu Sayyaf demanded.”
As Alex Wilner asked in his opinion piece, he asked the question that all Canadians are asking, “Canadians are left asking themselves what more might have been done to save Mr. Ridsdel. And what more can we do today, for Mr. Hall?”
So, what else could the PM and the Government of Canada have done, and do from here on out?
- Negotiate and Participate – The Canadian Government, if we believe the PM, is cooperating with the Government of the Philippines, and its partners. This should include negotiation and ransom, to secure the release of hostages, as well as at the same time, fully participating in military/special operations with the security forces of the Philippines.
- Unleash Canada’s Special Forces for international rescue missions – The PM said that the Canadian Government needs to protect the security of Canadians. He needs to not only denounce terror wherever it arises, but as our PM, he needs to mobilize our Special Forces, and in cooperation with allies and partners, he needs to unleash the Special Forces to rescue Canadians who have been captured and held for ransom. Posturing in front of cameras and denouncing terrorists is not enough. Canadian Special Forces need to be activated and unleashed on terrorists.
- Restrict Canadian Travel to world danger spots – The Government should not allow Canadians to travel to world hot spots where there is the risk of terror, kidnapping and death to Canadians. It is not enough to just post travel advisories. Canadians should NOT be allowed to travel to these places.
- Do all you can to make it daily news and put pressure on the terrorists and their allies – The Government should have the news constantly on to bear pressure on terrorists. The more vocal the noise and pressure about the kidnappings and acts of terror, the more the world will be aware of the situation and the more likely the terrorists will slip up and expose themselves.
- Get the diplomatic and military forces on the ground in the hot spot right away and prepare our own forces for assisting the local forces in rescuing Canadians – No more waiting and just letting the other nation’s government call the shots. Canadian government and military contacts need to fly in to the country within 24 hours of a kidnapping and coordinate with the local government and military and police, and see what assistance the Canadian Government can give, including our military expertise.
- More public service announcements at all Canadian passport offices, travel agencies, government offices, both federal and provincial that give travel warnings and advisories. Canadians need to be saturated with the warnings and advisories so that they will be aware of the danger zones around the world.
Believe me, I am a pacifist, and I am a realist
I used to be a soldier, an infantryman. I trained for combat. I served eight years. I know and understand the military mind. I also know that in a democracy we need a functional and efficient military, to be as the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz stated, ready to use military force, and wage war as “the continuation of politics by other means.” In this case it is very true. The use of our Special Forces is as much a political act as it is a military act. It is politics by other means, and it is our government saying to the world, that violence, kidnapping, and killing of Canadians is not acceptable and that the Canadian Government will respond and make every attempt to rescue Canadians and apply extreme prejudice in the pursuit of those who put Canadians in harm’s way.
I said, “used to be” for a reason. I am caught in that awkward place of understanding the need of military force when justified, and I am a realist in that I understand the secular state has an obligation to protect its citizens and its sovereign territory and international treaty obligations. I get that. I really do. BUT my own position on these issues is that I am a pacifist. I don’t believe in the use of violence. I don’t believe that Christians should engage in or participate in violent acts against another human being, including who the Canadian Government declares to be our sworn enemies.
Living in the tension of faith and citizenship obligations
What I am saying here, is I understand the responsibilities of a secular state, to have a strong military and a strong diplomatic corps, so that Canada’s interests can be looked after and protected here at home and abroad. Any citizen would rightly state they support this action by our secular government. As a Christian, living in a secular state, I also understand the tension of living in a democracy in which I participate in various levels of engagement, where I try to apply my faith, its beliefs and practices and ethics in how I live my life as a citizen in this country. As a person of faith, I have two conflicting allegiances. I have my natural citizenship, to the land that I call home, and its laws and its place in the world. There were times in the past where I did see or have a conflict with being a loyal citizen and serving in the military. But that is no longer the case. As a Christian, I believe all Christians are duty bound to God, to not engage in any kind of violence, “justified” or not.
My life as a Christian
As a Christian I live by the New Testament teaching of Jesus and the apostles. I am to abstain from the use of force and violence, not just violent words but violent actions, and I am to not engage in taking the lives of enemies. I am to love, care and respect enemies. So you see where the ethical quandary is for me. Do I please my understanding of the peace teaching of Jesus, or do I go ahead and justify the taking the lives of people, as they are declared to be enemies of the state? I am really left with no choice at all. I am by good conscience bound to act according to the dictates of my conscience and my understanding of the historical Christian faith, and as such I am obligated to refuse to engage in violence or support violence against another human being, even if they threaten the lives of my family and friends and fellow citizens.
I am not sitting on the fence
Some may accuse me of taking the easy way out for not endorsing or supporting “just war” or “justified violence”, and I leave that to you. All I know at the end of the day, I am the one who has to live with his own conscience. I cannot tell you how to make your own decisions. I can only try to be faithful to what I know to be true as I understand my faith and my place in this world. I am committed to walk “the way of peace” and not raise a hand in anger or retribution.
The state has a responsibility to its citizens
But I am not the state. The state has an obligation to protect its citizens and that may require the use of military force. I understand this is not easy for Mr. Trudeau. I pray for him and his cabinet, and for all the other leaders in the world, and right now the leaders in the Philippines, as they dead with this crisis. I do know that political posturing and denouncing terrorists is just not enough.
The Prime Minister is on the world stage and on the hot seat at home to see how he will handle this crisis. Will he succeed or will he fail. We await the outcome in the days and weeks ahead. Canadians are watching.
~ Sam Buick