OTTAWA -- A senior RCMP official says the national police force has sometimes assured private companies they won't be prosecuted for dealing with hostage-takers on behalf of desperate Canadian families.
James Malizia, the RCMP assistant commissioner for national security, told a Senate committee Monday that the primary focus for the force is the safe release of the captives.
As a result, the Mounties have provided so-called "comfort letters" to private agencies -- such as insurance companies -- assisting families, saying they will not be criminally investigated for negotiating with kidnappers.
"If there is anything that we can do during a hostage-taking that could assist or provide a level of comfort for agencies or companies that they won't be prosecuted or pursued with respect to criminal investigation, we have done that in the past. We have provided comfort letters," Malizia said during a meeting of the Senate national security and defence committee.
"So wherever we can collaborate, we do, and there is an exchange of information that will happen around those issues."
Since 2005, the Canadian government has responded to more than 20 cases that qualify as terrorist hostage cases, either because a terrorist entity claimed responsibility, or a Canadian citizen was taken hostage in an area where the sale or trade to an extremist group appeared imminent, said David Drake, director general of the counter-terrorism, crime and intelligence bureau at Global Affairs Canada.
The Canadian government has a long-standing policy against paying ransoms in hostage-takings.
Drake told the senators he is unaware of a case in which the federal government has either directly or indirectly paid a ransom.
The government is firm in its resolve to deny terrorists the resources they need to conduct attacks against Canada, its allies and partners, Drake said. The federal payment of ransom money would provide incentive for terrorists to engage in hostage-taking, increasing the risk to Canadians abroad, he added.
Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were executed in 2016 after Abu Sayyaf militants did not receive the large payments they had demanded.
Families sometimes choose to work with agencies or private contractors to raise money and engage in negotiations with hostage-takers, Malizia noted.
"This decision is their decision. We do not advise such a course of action, however," he said. "If they do decide to work with an agency, and if they do decide to pay a ransom, it's a course of action in which we are not involved."
However, the RCMP continues to give advice to family members acting as negotiators so that they understand the risks involved, Malizia said.
Amanda Lindhout was a freelance journalist from Red Deer, Alta., when she and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were seized by armed men in Somalia in August 2008, the beginning of 15 months in captivity. They were released upon payment of a ransom, arranged in part by Lindhout's mother.
The RCMP investigated the kidnapping for years, arresting Somalian national Ali Omar Ader in 2015. He was found guilty of hostage-taking in an Ottawa courtroom last year.
Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were taken hostage in 2012 by a Taliban-linked group while on a backpacking trip in Afghanistan. The couple, and the three children they had during their five years in captivity, were freed by Pakistani forces last October. There are no indications that a ransom was paid.
Boyle faces a string of assault charges stemming from alleged events that followed his return to Canada.
Prior to his arrest he met with Justin Trudeau, which prompted questions Monday about the prime minister's security.
While the witnesses could not talk about specific cases, Malizia and Jeff Yaworski of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said any relevant information about an individual meeting the prime minister would be passed along in advance.