A sister of Robert Hall, one of two Canadian hostages beheaded in the Philippines earlier this year, is demanding an inquiry into how the Trudeau Liberals handled the high-profile kidnapping case—saying government officials “literally did the least they possibly could” to help rescue her 66-year-old brother.
Abducted by terrorists from a luxury marina one year ago today—along with his Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, fellow Canadian John Ridsdel, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad—Robert Hall was executed on June 13, less than two months after Ridsdel met the same gruesome fate. Their kidnappers, members of the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf organization, murdered both men after repeated ransom deadlines passed without payment.
In a Wednesday Facebook post marking the anniversary of her brother’s abduction, Bonice Thomas says Ottawa should be “held accountable for their inaction and apathy toward two Canadians in extreme peril,” and urged others to join her call for an inquiry. “In the last video that we saw of Robert—alive—he brokenheartedly said that he felt he had been abandoned by his government,” Thomas writes. “He was right. And it broke my heart too.”
According to longstanding policy, Ottawa does not pay ransoms to kidnappers because caving to such demands would turn every Canadian into a target and facilitate future acts of terrorism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed that rigid stance even after Ridsdel and Hall were brutally beheaded. “Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly,” he insisted.
In a statement released the day after he was killed, Hall’s family said it “agrees wholeheartedly” with Ottawa’s no-ransom policy, “even in our darkest hour.” But in her lengthy Facebook post, Thomas now says the Liberal government failed to do all it could to help save the hostages.
“I and the rest of my family steadfastly agree with a no-ransom policy,” she writes. “We will not pay criminals to further their criminal activity. However, I assumed—as we all did—that we, our government—CANADA—would take immediate and meaningful action to secure the safety and release of two of our sons. We were wrong.”
She spent “nine agonizing months” writing letter after letter to government agencies, Thomas says, but they received no concrete response, “aside from the occasional auto reply confirming receipt of my emails, and a snarky letter from the Defence Department saying I had the wrong department.” In the meantime, she says, Ottawa’s “bumbling and inaction” gave the kidnappers “the time they needed to sharpen their swords.”
“I’m not a politician, nor scholar, and don’t pretend to know how one government engages another government, especially regarding crimes of this calibre, but I do know that our government literally did the least they possibly could to help my brother and the other hostages,” her post continues. “Sadly, in hindsight, I see that Trudeau, [Global Affairs Minister Stéphane] Dion, the RCMP, and all other government offices involved in this file were in waaay [sic] over their heads and too focused on their single, incomplete thought—’We don’t pay ransom’—to have a plan, a strategy, or even any kind of template from which to work.”
As for Trudeau’s promise to “pursue those responsible for these heinous acts and bring them to justice, however long it takes,” Thomas says “his words mean nothing and are of cold comfort.”
“I’m asking all of you,” her post concludes, “to remove your polite Canadian pants and put on your kick-some-ass Canadian pants—join me in asking for, insisting on, demanding, accountability for our hostage policies and an inquiry into the actions our government took to save the lives of Robert Hall and John Ridsdel.”
MORE: Remembering Robert Hall
Thomas, 56, lives on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, where she works as the property manager of a lodge. Contacted by Maclean’s, she repeated her demand for an official inquiry. “Robert’s family, Robert’s friends, we were all held hostage as well—but we were held hostage by the Canadian government: just never knowing what they were doing, and witnessing, over and over again, them citing the same old policy,” she said in a telephone interview. “We needed way more support through this whole thing.”
Although Thomas concedes that Ottawa’s options were limited—Abu Sayyaf is a vicious terrorist organization operating in the lawless jungles of a faraway country—she says her family deserves to know what specific steps were explored, and whether more could be done to help the next family plunged into a similar situation. “Of course they shouldn’t pay a ransom,” she told Maclean’s. “But what meaningful action are you taking?”
Asked to respond to Thomas’s comments, including her desire for an inquiry, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada released a prepared statement to Maclean’s: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Robert Hall and John Ridsdel as we mark this difficult anniversary. We cannot begin to understand the terrible ordeal the family has endured, but recognize that this has been a devastating year for them. Canada condemns without reservation the brutality of the hostage-takers, and these unnecessary deaths. These were acts of cold-blooded murder and responsibility rests squarely with the terrorist group who took him hostage. We continue to work with the government of the Philippines and international partners to pursue those responsible for these heinous acts and to bring them to justice, however long it takes.”
Born in Calgary, Hall dabbled in seemingly everything—driving race cars, flying airplanes, selling pizzas, welding, acting—before selling his possessions, buying a boat, and sailing to the other side of the world. Ridsdel, 68, was a former journalist and semi-retired mining consultant; a lifelong sailor, he had lived in the Philippines for more than a decade. Both were docked at the Holiday Oceanview Resort on the night of Sept. 21, 2015, when armed men stormed the picturesque marina under the cover of darkness.
MORE: Remembering John Ridsdel
Ridsdel was beheaded in late April, the first hostage to be killed. Flor, Hall’s girlfriend, was set free in late June, less than two weeks after Hall was murdered. Sekkingstad, the last of the four hostages, was finally released last weekend. Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, said her country did not pay a ransom for his freedom—but somebody did. Reports out of the Philippines say Sekkingstad’s family and friends raised the necessary funds.
“When you step out of our country, you expect that Canada has got your back,” Thomas says. “In this case, it was clear they didn’t have our back.”
Here is the complete, unedited text of Thomas’s Facebook post:
Today – September 21 marks one year since my brother Robert Hall was violently kidnapped from a ‘secure’ marina in the Samal region of the Philippines. Robert, along with his partner Tes Flores, John Ridsdel, and the marina manager Kjarten Sekkingstad, were taken by Abu Sayyaf – a brutal extremist militia with a stronghold in the southern Philippines.
As most of you know, Robert was beheaded on June 13 of this year – less than six weeks after his friend and fellow Canadian John Ridsdel met the same horrifying fate.
Throughout the captivity of my brother I wrote consistently to our government – from the pmo to foreign affairs, the departments of defense, international trade, the governor general, my mp, the leaders of the opposition…. the list goes on an on. Aside from the occasional auto reply confirming receipt of my emails, and a snarky letter from the defense department saying I had the wrong department, I received no contact from our government and, of course but not surprisingly – no response or answers to my questions.
In the last video that we saw of Robert – alive – he brokenheartedly said that he felt he had been abandoned by his government. He was right. And it broke my heart too.
For nine agonizing months he and another Canadian were beaten, starved, threatened, and worse, and our governments response was to cite policy “Canada does not pay ransom” and push themselves away from the table.
I and the rest of my family steadfastly agree with a no ransom policy. We will not pay criminals to further their criminal activity. However, I assumed – as we all did – that we, our government – CANADA – would take immediate and meaningful action to secure the safety and release of two of our sons. We were wrong. And that broke my heart too.
I’m not a politician, nor scholar, and don’t pretend to know how one government engages another government – especially regarding crimes of this caliber, but I do know that our government literally did the least they possibly could to help my brother and the other hostages.
Why were sanctions not imposed immediately on the Philippines government in an effort to ‘urge’ them to resolve this aggression against Canadian citizens?
Why, when Trudeau was meeting the Philippine government for TPP negotiations were there no polite suggestions from Canada or other stakeholders that a negative outcome for these hostages could threaten the Philippines participation in TPP?
WHY was our extraordinary military – particularly our JTF2 not engaged?
Sadly, in hindsight, I see that Trudeau, Dion, the RCMP, and all other government offices involved in this file were in waaay over their heads and too focused on their single, incomplete thought – “We don’t pay ransom” to have a plan, a strategy, or even any kind of template from which to work.
Trudeau has said that he will see that justice is served to those that murdered my brother and John Ridsdel, but to be honest, his words mean nothing and are of cold comfort. My beautiful, intelligent, adventurous, talented, loving, and remarkable brother is gone and our governments bumbling and inaction allowed his murderers the time they needed to sharpen their swords.
All those that knew and loved Robert and John will forever bear the weight of the anguish we endured and witnessed in this impossible year. It can never be fixed, only carried. We will forever guard our children and our Elders from the infestation of images and videos of Roberts murder.
The justice I truly seek is that our government be held accountable for their inaction and apathy towards two Canadians in extreme peril.
I’m asking all of you to remove your polite Canadian pants and put on your kick-some-ass Canadian pants – join me in asking for, insisting on, demanding, accountability for our hostage policies and an inquiry into the actions our government took to save the lives of Robert Hall and John Ridsdel.