Steven Chase and Robert Fife detail the context in which Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the Canadian Government would not pay ransoms to terrorists, directly or indirectly. In an associated April 27 article, Evidence suggests Canada made payments in past kidnapping cases, Geoffrey York draws distinctions between the current government’s stated position and the way the previous government dealt with this problem.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What is the rationale for the government’s policy on paying ransom to kidnappers? How does the current federal government’s position on paying ransom to terrorist kidnappers differ from the previous government’s position, if at all?

New Terminology:

Jihadis, back channels, abduction, ransom, predecessor,

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Study and Discussion Activity

NOTE: Discretion is advised. These articles turn on events involving brutal violence and  may not be suitable for all students.

Introduction to lesson and task:

When a Canadian was murdered by by a terrorist group in the Philippines recently, Canadians were reminded of a continuing government policy not to pay ransoms to terrorist kidnappers. To do so, the government claims, would endanger millions of Canadians travelling abroad each year.

In this case, it is apparent that no ransom was paid and the man was murdered as a result. However, in other cases during the tenure of the previous government, Canadian hostages have been released and there is evidence that ransoms were paid in spite of prevailing government policies.

Students can benefit from learning about the reasons for the government policy on ransoms and the stark choices such a policy requires, as well as the reasons these policies are put in place. Since there are claims that ransoms were paid under the previous government, students can evaluate these claims as part of a report on this issue.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Discuss the recent killing of Canadian John Ridsell by terrorists in the Southern Philippines. Ask what students know of this and, in a general discussion, note that this is not the first such abduction and that in previous cases hostages have been released and, it is claimed, ransoms have been paid.

Assign them a report for homework, based the following worksheet:

Work Sheet for students

Using the two articles, write a report on Canada’s official position on, and on its recent history of, paying ransoms to terrorist kidnappers holding Canadian citizens as hostage.

Ensure you include evidence related to the following questions and prompts:

  • Name all Canadian hostages mentioned in the articles who have been killed by their captors and who have been released in recent years.
  • Of those who were released, which ones claim that ransoms were paid for their release? How were these ransoms said to have been paid (through what channels)?
  • What has been the official position of both the Harper and Trudeau governments when it comes to paying ransoms for Canadian hostages held by terrorists?
  • What is the rationale for this policy? How could payment of ransoms put other Canadians’ lives in danger when they are travelling abroad?
  • How can the definition of the term “ransom” affect the perception that ransom was or was not paid? What other ways are there to describe such a payment?
  • Ex-Prime Minister Harper has said that he would not answer for what other governments might have done in regard to a hostage being freed. How might ransom money be channelled in such a way that Canada could claim it did not pay it?
  • What is significant about the claim by the US ambassador to Mali regarding the detrimental effect the payment of ransoms has had on regional security in that part of Africa?
  • What reasons might the North African branch of Al-Qaeda have to lie about Canada’s payment of $900,000 US in ransoms? What would it say about our previous government’s resolve if it is true?
  • Finally, imagine that it is up to you to decide whether or not to pay a ransom to save a hostage’s life. Imagine that getting the money for the ransom is not a problem and further imagine that the family of the hostage are sitting in your office, begging you to pay the ransom. Imagine how you would decide and what you would say to the family.

Consolidation of Learning:

Students discuss their reports in this or a subsequent class period.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students are able to describe the rationale behind current government policy on paying ransoms and can compare this government’s actions in that regard to the  previous government’s record.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on subsequent kidnappings, if they occur here or elsewhere, and whether or not ransoms are known to have been paid or are suspected to have been paid.