Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reflected on his first year in power on December 19 as Parliament drew to a close.
Trudeau spoke about his biggest regrets, electoral reform, and cash for access at a press conference in Ottawa.
Trudeau said the death of two Canadians to Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines was a low point in 2016.
The tragedy was “personally difficult for me”, the prime minister said.
“(It) is something that obviously was personally difficult for me as I had the responsibility for directing and articulating the Canadian position, but also the opportunity and responsibility to speak with their families,” Trudeau told reporters during a year-end news conference.
In September 2015, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, along with a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman, were kidnapped from a marina on the southern Samal island by members of the Abu Sayyaf group. Their captors demanded a huge ransom.
Ridsdel, 68, was beheaded in April 2016, and Hall, 66, was decapitated two months later, after ransom deadlines lapsed. The Norwegian and Filipino hostages were eventually freed.
“I think reflecting on the fact that we live in a very dangerous world and the responsibility that any government has to keep its citizens safe now and in the future needs to be top of mind,” Trudeau said.
Asked whether he regrets publicly stating that Canada doesn’t pay ransom for hostages, Trudeau said he believes that Canadians understand the federal government’s stance on the issue.
Trudeau said people understand that paying ransom “would not just provide source of significant funds to violent terrorists intent on causing more harm and taking more lives, but it would also endanger further the lives of any Canadian citizen who works, travels or lives outside of our borders.”
Robert Hall’s family has publicly stated that it support Canada’s policy of not paying ransom. But in an interview with CTV News Channel earlier this month, Hall’s sister said the federal government must reform a “broken system” of rescuing hostages.
Bonice Thomas said that “somebody has got to get the ball rolling on reform, serious reform, to our policies regarding Canadians in peril on foreign soil. We just don’t have a plan to help them.”
“We have some of the best experts in the world as far as terrorism and hostage-taking and hostage release and rescue,” she said. “I just think we need to seriously look at this and fix a broken system and quit politicking around and quit letting the dull blade of bureaucracy allow people to die.”
At the time of Hall’s death, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs said it “pursued every avenue to secure Mr. Hall’s release.”
Thomas said there was a lot of contact between her family and Canadian authorities during the time her brother was in captivity, but that offered no comfort.
“Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean you are communicating and that’s very much what it felt like. We’d ask questions, we’d ask for information and we’d get conflicting messages back. It was just horribly frustrating, this gamut we ran around just trying to get snippets of accurate, actionable information.”
Thomas said a family member was forced to negotiate directly with the terrorists.
“It’s a terrible position to put a person into, in an emotional state to try and reason with, literally, psychopathic criminals… with no proper negotiator or expertise helping them.”
Hall’s family and friends had assembled about $1.4-million to pay a ransom when he was murdered.