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Family’s petition calls for change to ransom policy

Gord Bibby examines a photo of his late cousin Robert Hall and Marites Flor. Hall was beheaded in the Philippines last year by Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist group.  - NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin
Gord Bibby examines a photo of his late cousin Robert Hall and Marites Flor. Hall was beheaded in the Philippines last year by Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist group.
— image credit: NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin

A Nanaimo man whose cousin was kidnapped and beheaded by a terrorist group in the Philippines says the federal government failed to handle the hostage situation effectively and must make policy changes.

Robert Hall, of Alberta, was beheaded last June after being held for months in captivity by Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine-based Islamic terrorist organization notorious for kidnapping Westerners in the southern region of the country, according to Hall's cousin, Gord Bibby, a long-time Nanaimo resident.

Hall, along with his fiancé Marites Flor, a fellow Canadian John Ridsdel, and a Norwegian man were kidnapped in 2015 while staying at a resort on Samal Island and taken to the Sulu Islands. Both Canadian men were executed after their ransom deadlines passed. Ridsdel was killed less than two months before Hall's death, while Flor and the Norwegian were eventually released.

Bibby said the Hall family received limited communication from the federal government in the weeks and months that followed the kidnapping. He said they were told not to communicate about the kidnapping through social media because it would "impair" negotiations.

"The family wasn't getting any information," Bibby said. "They were pleading with the government to tell them what was happening and they were kept in the dark."

Hall's brother travelled to the Philippines, where he made contact with the terrorists and was supported by Canadian consular services and the RCMP, but it wasn't enough, according to Bibby, who said he found out about his cousin's death on the radio.

Bibby is now hopeful that a petition by another relative of the Hall family will be a catalyst for change. It calls on the federal government to increase consular services, reach out to international security experts and improve communication with family members when Canadians are kidnapped overseas.

The petition has more than 500 signatures and is supported by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.

"It's impossible to imagine the distress family members of those kidnapped or abducted must feel during a time of such uncertainty ... Canada must strengthen its efforts to better inform and assist families in these devastating situations," Johns said, in a e-mailed statement.

Canada has a no-ransom policy for kidnappings, but families can privately pay ransoms. Hall's family was able to raise about $1.2 million for his release, but Abu Sayyaf demanded more than $8 million.

Bibby said the family supports the no-ransom policy, but believe the government could have spent ransom money on hiring private security firms that specialize in hostage negotiations and rescue efforts.

"There are other ways to spend ransom money and the government didn't even want to consider it," he said.

Hall's kidnapping occurred in Mindanao, a region in the southern Philippines known for its sandy beaches and warm waters. However, foreign tourists visiting the region have routinely been abducted and executed by Abu Sayyaf. Global Affairs Canada has long advised against travel to all areas of Mindanao except for Davao City.

Bibby is unsure if his cousin was aware of the dangers in Mindanao, but says Hall was an experienced solo sailor.

"He was a pretty savvy guy. He had sailed all over the world," Bibby said. "I think where he was, he thought it was quite safe. It was a resort area and it was a marina that I think he had been in before."

Bibby said he was best friends with Hall when they were kids living in Alberta. He said his cousin's death left him angry and has forever changed him.

"There was a lot of anger," he said. "It changes you. He was my cousin."

To view the petition, please visit https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-696

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