Kidnapping, historically, indicated the seizing and carrying away of children to make them slaves or servants or for some other nefarious purpose; for example, the marriage of an infant heiress to acquire a claim to her property. The term now applies to any taking or carrying away of persons against their will, either by transporting them out of the country or by confining them within the country to secure a ransom or some other concession in return for their freedom.
Kidnapping is expressly condemned in the Canadian Criminal Code. Anyone who confines or imprisons another against his will, or causes another to be sent without lawful justification out of Canada, or, and this is the most usual and popular conception of the offence, holds another against his will for ransom or services, is liable to life imprisonment. It is also an offence to imprison a person unlawfully, not necessarily holding him in a jail, but, for example, without lawful cause detaining him for any purpose, even without seeking a ransom or other concession for his freedom (see Civil Liberties). Such unlawful imprisonment is punishable by a 5-year sentence. The code treats the kidnapping of a female or a child under 14 as the distinct offence of abduction, regarding such an act as usually being for sexual purposes. In 1985, there were 1327 reported cases of kidnapping, and 284 charges were laid against 168 males, 80 females and 9 juveniles.
Perhaps the most famous recent case of kidnapping (1970) in Canada was that of James Cross (a British trade commissioner) and Pierre Laporte by the Front de libération du Québec (see October Crisis). The 1973 Treaty on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Diplomats made the kidnapping of diplomats criminal by international law. Canada is a party to this treaty, and under the Criminal Code (s381.1) the kidnapping of a diplomat is recognized as a separate crime.
In connection with activities against terrorism, a number of countries have amended their criminal codes to enable them to try terrorists for acts affecting their nationals, regardless of the nationality of the terrorist or the place where the act of terrorism occurred. Occasionally, this has meant that the offender has been unlawfully captured by authorities of the country in question and his arguments condemning his kidnapping have been rejected, since by international law only a state can complain if its territory or its ships on the high seas are interfered with in any way.
The matter has been dealt with by a series of international treaties drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organization, with its headquarters in Montréal. In accordance with these, any act of violence against aircraft, and especially hijacking, is criminal. The passengers who have been kidnapped in this way must be freed by the country in which the plane has landed and the offenders must be tried by that country or returned for trial to any country which is directly affected. Canada is a party to each of these treaties.
In recent civil wars, rebels have often kidnapped civilians and held them hostage, in the same way as have many terrorists. The United Nations adopted a Hostage Convention to which Canada is a party, making such kidnappers liable to trial in any country where they may be found.