Lois Eaton with her e-petition, e-696, which is asking the federal government for an increase in consular service for kidnapped and abducted citizens, involvement from international experts and to keep the families of kidnapped victims better informed. — NEWS file photo

Qualicum Beach resident’s e-petition presented at House of Commons

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns presented June 13, government has 45 days to respond

In a country with a population of more than 35 million, getting 500 signatures on an e-petition shouldn’t be too difficult. But Lois Eaton said she was concerned every day that she might not get enough.

Eaton, a Qualicum Beach resident, created an e-petition aimed at increasing consular services (help and advice from a government agent) for kidnapped or abducted victims, involving international experts who have been previously successful in dealing with organizations engaged in kidnapping worldwide and keeping the families of kidnapped victims informed.

Eaton’s cousin, Robert Hall, was kidnapped in September of 2015 in the Philippines and eventually beheaded in June 2016 by the Abu Sayyaf Group, Eaton previously told The NEWS. Hall, along with another Canadian citizen, John Ridsdel, was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf Group, but Hall’s fiancée Tess was released.

Eaton posted the e-petition Nov. 29, 2016. She had 120 days to get the 500 signatures for the e-petition to move forward. Eaton said it was probably about two or three weeks before the March 29 deadline that the petition hit the 500 mark.

The e-petition received 579 signatures.

“Until we got them (the signatures), every day I’m thinking, ‘OK, if this doesn’t work well the family is being engaged, and we’re working together and it’s been a positive experience.’ I kept thinking of all the ways I could help everyone not feel too bummed out.”

The e-petition shows where the signatures came from. B.C. had the most with 255 signatures, but 10 people from other countries did sign the petition.

Eaton said it was a group of people overseas who signed the petition. She said it resonated with them “which makes sense if you’re outside of Canada; being kidnapped by terrorists is pertinent.”

While the e-petition closed at the end of March, it wasn’t until June 13 that Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who sponsored the e-petition, presented it to the House of Commons.

June 13 was the one-year anniversary of Hall’s beheading.

“The petition was tabled on the one year anniversary (June 13) that Robert Hall was beheaded in the Philippines, after being held hostage for nine months,” said Johns in an emailed statement to The NEWS. “I want to extend my condolences to the friends and family of Robert Hall, including Lois Eaton and (Hall’s sister) Bonice Thomas.”

The rules governing the House of Commons requires the government to respond to the e-petition within 45 calendar days of it being presented. According to the Parliament of Canada’s website, if the government fails to respond within the time period, the matter of the government’s failure to repond is automatically referred to the standing committee designated by the MP who presented the petition.

Johns said he’s looking forward to the upcoming Foreign Affairs committee study on consular affairs. Johns said he hopes the committee will recommend improvements to Canadian consular services, so that families, like Eaton’s, are better supported in times of crisis.

However after signing other e-petitions and watching the outcomes, Eaton said she feels the government isn’t taking e-petitions very seriously. She said the response that comes back is the current policy without any of the proposed changes.

“If the policy was good, we wouldn’t have had to write the petition,” Eaton said. “If there is good policy there and it’s not being applied, that’s probably what the petition will be about.”

Eaton said she’s unsure of how the government will respond to the e-petition.

Eaton said in the nine months her cousin was held hostage, the government had RCMP officers, office workers and retired politicians working on the case.

“Tell me how the RCMP, a local force, is going to know how to deal with terrorists in the Philippines,” she said. “I think if we had trained people dealing with the family and dealing with the kidnapping… that is such a huge step forward.”

Eaton said the point of her petition is so no family has to go through the pain of losing a family member to a terrorist kidnapping.

“Nobody should ever have to go through this again. We have to have a plan in place so no other families experience what we did.”