Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee.
My name is David Drake, and I am the Director General of Global Affairs Canada's Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Intelligence Bureau. I have had direct responsibility for and operational oversight of the Global Affairs Canada's response to terrorist hostage takings involving Canadian citizens since 2014.
My understanding is that the committee is seeking further information on interdepartmental coordination on hostage takings. As such, in my remarks today, I will speak to the Government of Canada's hostage response structure and Global Affairs Canada's role in supporting hostage families. I will then turn to my esteemed colleague Assistant Commissioner James Malizia from the RCMP, an agency with which Global Affairs Canada works exceptionally closely on these matters.
I will make every effort to be as open as possible and answer your questions fully. However, cabinet confidence and classification of information may restrict what I am able to share. More critically, I cannot reveal any information that could jeopardize current and future efforts and put the lives of future hostages and others at risk.
I can share with considerable relief that as of a short while ago, for the first time since 2007, we are not currently managing any active terrorist hostage case. This, of course, could change at any moment.
Hostage-taking is a tactic of choice of terrorist groups and individuals seeking to raise funds or to obtain concessions from governments. Incidents are common in states where authorities do not have effective control or capabilities and in conflict zones.
Most Canadians kidnapped abroad are victims of organized or individual crimes, or in some instances may be unlawfully detained by security authorities or militias in circumstances that resemble a hostage situation.
Generally these cases are managed by my colleagues in the consular branch in Global Affairs Canada, which is managed by Ms. Jeffrey. Terrorist hostage cases, however, are managed by a highly specialized unit in the department under my responsibility. You can imagine, of course, that we work very closely together.
This division of labour reflects the fact that terrorist hostage takings require a different toolkit, as well as specialized expertise and skills because of their national security implications.
Of course, the distinction between criminal and terrorist is not always so clear cut. There are elements of terrorist hostage takings that require distinct support from consular, and there are some consular cases that require the specialization of the critical incidents team.
National security implications or not, the Government of Canada treats the safety and security of all Canadians as a matter of fundamental importance.
Since 2005, the Government of Canada has responded to over 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 a terrorist group appeared imminent.
For a terrorist hostage case, Global Affairs Canada coordinates the interdepartmental task force, the IDTF. This is a whole-of-government response that draws on the combined efforts of diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, and military spheres. This includes support from trained negotiators and investigators, as well as intelligence-gathering and assessment. Canada's approach to the management of these cases tracks very closely with our closest allies and partners, who also employ whole-of-government hostage response structures.
The primary responsibility for the response to a hostage case lies with the country in which they are taken hostage. This is often forgotten. In this case, Canada works closely with foreign authorities and allies at every level to free Canadians and bring them home. As such, the Government of Canada's response includes significant diplomatic efforts.
Family engagement remains an essential part of our response to these situations. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Global Affairs Canada provide advice and support to hostage families over the course of the case, mindful of Canadian law and Canada's international legal obligations.
A hostage-taking is a horrible and unimaginable ordeal for families and loved ones. Our family support officials strive to work as closely as they can with families to assist them during these trying ordeals. The RCMP's role in this regard will be addressed by my colleague, Assistant Commissioner Malizia.
The Government of Canada constantly reviews its practices and procedures in complex cases such as these with an eye to identifying areas for improvement.
Recent efforts have included interviews with family members who received direct support from officials during a case, as well as consultations with close international partners and other experts on best practices in supporting hostage families.
Hostage-takings are enormously complex. All are unique and therefore require highly varied responses. Nevertheless, we study each case in great detail to better understand the particularities and the commonalities. We compare and discuss cases with our counterpart hostage response structures in like-minded countries, and we meet and seek feedback from hostage families. Through these activities we continuously add to our best practices. The Government of Canada is actively applying these lessons learned.
I'll stop there and now turn the floor to my colleague, Assistant Commissioner James Malizia.