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Canada’s extradition procedures in desperate need of an overhaul

published November 24, 2021

Canada’s laws on extradition are in need of reform.

That is the understatement of the year emanating from the Halifax Colloquium of Extradition Law Reform last month. The report, authored by Dalhousie University law professor Robert J. Currie, is an important contribution to the growing literature demanding changes from top to bottom in Canada’s bureaucratic approach to extradition.

The Colloquium report pinpoints the absurdity of the presuppositions and built-in prejudices of the court system when the “blindness” of justice works against fairness rather than being its arbiter. The extradition committal process, participants unanimously decided, is “inherently unfair.”

This is especially disconcerting if you stand to be extradited to a country where the concept of justice is increasingly unlike our own, such as the United States, or France.

Two clients given sentences in excess of 100 years each

In the U.S., alleged offenders face ridiculously high sentences compared to our own sentencing regime. Two of my clients who insisted on pleading not guilty because they believed they had done nothing criminally wrong each received sentences in excess of 100 years.

One was charged with grooming his home-educated daughter to perform sexual favours. The crowning evidence in his extradition hearing was his admission that, following the health curriculum for her grade level, he had shown her how to place a condom on a banana. That was enough “evidence” for the conservative Canadian judge to be satisfied that he should face trial in Louisiana.

There, the deck was stacked against him: his ex-wife, the complainant, worked in the sheriff’s office. Not only that, but a single psychologist had a monopoly for psychological services in great swaths of the state. His prejudicial report was not admitted as evidence in the court here – but was admitted once my client was surrendered for extradition.

Another client received a similar sentence in Arizona – cumulatively in excess of 100 years – when he discovered that his teenaged quadriplegic stepson could relieve the cramps in his useless limbs upon achieving sexual release. He admitted to helping his stepson in this endeavour on three occasions. That admission was enough to guarantee his extradition to stand trial – without a thought on the part of the judge or the minister of justice as to whether the receiving state would factor in his motivation of misplaced compassion rather than sexual assault.

Always a catch to pleading guilty

In the United States, obligatory sentences measured in decades are common. Accused persons are therefore encouraged to plead guilty with the carrot of a low sentence – as low as one day – provided they plead guilty. This makes the prosecutors’ statistics look impressive. But there is always a catch: the accused must sign a document drafted by the prosecutor or, typically, the FBI, implicating someone else in the chain of command.

In two of my cases, the person implicated was the co-accused husband, and there were children involved. The argument used to obtain the guilty plea? Mom can plead out and be on a plane to be with her kids the next day.