When news broke that John Ridsdel had been beheaded by terrorists, Justin Trudeau sounded like William Tecumseh Sherman: “I do want to make one thing perfectly, crystal clear,” Trudeau said, his ministers standing behind him. “Canada does not – and will not – pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly.”
Andrew Cohen writes that, at that moment, Justin also sounded like his father:
It was a bold, bald refusal. What was striking about his declaration and the subsequent explanation was his tone and delivery. It was largely free of the hesitation – the verbal tick of ums and ahs – that sometimes punctuate Trudeau’s speech.
His statement on ransom felt instinctive, even guttural. It flowed from him like his defence of citizens’ rights (“a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”) in the election campaign. Or when he invoked the memory of his father (“I’m incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son and I’m incredibly lucky to be raised with those values.”)
In talking about hostages, he exuded a confidence shorn of doubt. More than ever, he was his father.
The jury is still out on whether or not Justin is his father's son. And, responses in these situations are more difficult than they at first appear. Trudeau the Elder said he would not bargain with James Cross's kidnappers. However,
Morality is messy. Six weeks after the kidnappings in Quebec in 1970, Trudeau’s government negotiated with the kidnappers who held Cross. In exchange for his release, the kidnappers were allowed safe passage to Cuba.
Ultimately, then, Pierre Trudeau did what was necessary to save a life. In a similar situation, his rhetoric notwithstanding, would Justin Trudeau not do the same?
That's a difficult question. Chances are that Justin will be tested on this file yet again. And we'll know the answer.