Two University of New Brunswick students abducted in Ghana last week are “extremely fortunate” that local police authorities rescued them when they did, a retired Canadian ambassador says.
“These kidnappings can go on for weeks, months and years even, in some cases,” said Gar Pardy, who was also Canada’s director-general of consular affairs for 11 years.
Lauren Tilley, 19 , of Rothesay and Bailey Chitty, 20 , of Amherst, N.S., were volunteering with the non-governmental organization, Youth Challenge International, known as YCI, when they were abducted at the Kumasi Royal Golf Club at 8:25 p.m. local time on June 4.
Eight days later, the two women were rescued during a police raid in the south-central Ashanti region.
“That was just unbelievably good,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often in these kinds of situations,” Pardy said.
On its website, YCI said both women were getting support from professionals and were physically unhurt.
Five Ghanaians and three Nigerians were taken into custody after the raid Wednesday morning.
‘It can happen anywhere’
When travelling overseas, Pardy said, any foreigner is a potential target for a kidnapping.
“It’s almost up to the individual … they need to protect themselves.”
They should do this by learning about the country they’re visiting and about its political history, as well as the dangers of neighbouring countries.
Things change quickly in these kinds of situations. In West Africa, in particular, it’s an extremely volatile region.– Gar Pardy, former Canadian ambassador
Since 2016, about eight Canadians have been kidnapped in various parts of the world,” Pardy said. None of those cases are directly related.
A Quebec woman who was last heard from in December, is still missing in West Africa.
Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped in Somalia in 2008 and held for more than a year before being released in late 2009.
That same year, CBC journalist Mellissa Fung was abducted in Kabul, Afghanistan, and held hostage.
“It can happen anywhere,” he said.
What happens behind the scenes?
Pardy has written a paper about the international kidnappings of Canadians and helped develop the concept of travel advisories for the federal government.
Before he retired in 2003, he had been involved with 129 kidnapping negotiations in countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Colombia.
Officials have to be very careful when sharing public information about kidnappings, he said.
When government makes public statements about kidnappings they’re really talking to the kidnappers.
“So you’ve got to be extremely careful in terms of what gets said.”
‘Things change quickly’
When Canadians are kidnapped in a foreign country, Pardy said, Canadian officials try to obtain as much information as they can about the situation, such as who could be involved, the history of kidnappings and political violence in that country.
He said officials also try to establish the record of local authorities in terms of dealing with such situations.
“Things change quickly in these kinds of situations,” Pardy said. “In West Africa in particular, it’s an extremely volatile region.”
The abduction of the two Maritimers marked the second time in about a month that foreigners were targeted in Kumasi. Earlier, an Indian national was abducted and rescued.
When a kidnapping occurs, local authorities are responsible for carrying out the rescue, Pardy said. Officials from the victim’s country have little to do with the operation on the ground.
But more often than not, local authorities will also consult with the country where the victim is from.
“In some of these cases, of course, the rescue operation itself is extremely dangerous and could cause injury and even death as far as the people involved are concerned,” he said.
Canada doesn’t pay ransom
He said travellers are kidnapped for either political or criminal purposes — and always involve a request for ransom.
The people who abducted the two UNB students, didn’t ask for a ransom, but Pardy said it was just a matter of time.
“There would’ve been a ransom,” he said.
Although the government of Canada will not pay ransom, Pardy said some countries do, including Germany, Italy, the United States, South Korea.
Pardy said there have been cases where countries with a policy of paying ransom have paid millions of dollars to get victims back, particularly when they have been held for a long period of time.
“The policy itself is not effective in terms of preventing kidnapping or even resolving kidnappings,” he said.
In 2016, two Canadians were killed after they were kidnapped in the southern Philippines and a ransom was not paid.
Non-profit has to prepare volunteers
UNB is not commenting on what happened to the students, who were studying at Renaissance College, a program affiliated with the university.
But Pardy believes UNB had little responsibility for what happened in Ghana.
It’s the non-profit organization, in this case is Youth Challenge International, that is responsible for making sure people are aware of the potential dangers before they travel overseas.
Although the non-profit organization did comment on its website that the two women were safe, it did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview.