Canada Defends U.S. Fugitive: ‘Due Process’ Delays Extradition

The Canadian government has stepped in to protect the life of an American fugitive accused of shooting his ex-wife and her boyfriend in the United States, and who could face the death penalty if sent home.

The Department of Justice is seeking an assurance from the U.S. State Department that [The accused] will be spared the death penalty if he is sent back to Arkansas, where he is charged with double murder.

The request has again stalled efforts to return [The accused] to the U.S., from which he fled in late 2005 while awaiting trial for the murders of his ex-wife, and her boyfriend.

He has already been ordered out of the country however his fait - and his life - may now hinge on whether the U.S. accepts Canada’s request and takes the death penalty off the table if [The accused] is convicted.

“We don’t have it here, and we basically find it as cruel and unusual (punishment),” said Chris Girouard, spokesman for the Department of Justice. “It’s like sending people to their death, it’s not something we do in Canada.”

[The accused] was captured Oct. 6 in a Longview, Alta., motel by Mounties working with the FBI and other U.S. law officials.

He had fled the U.S. after being released on a $500,000 bond, travelling to Mexico, across America and eventually slipping into Alberta.

He is charged here with breaching the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, after telling immigration officials at Calgary International Airport his murder charges had been dropped.

Authorities in Arkansas allege [The accused] pumped four bullets into his ex-wife, and two into 29-year-old boyfriend, at her house in Benton, Ark. [The accused] claims self defence.

Saline County, where [The accused] is charged continues to seek the return of the 40-year-old fugitive.

Rebecca Bush, the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Saline County, told the Herald on Friday her office would consider any request from the Canadian government for the death penalty to be waived.

“Once we obtain that (note) we will be looking at it and making a decision,” said Bush. “I can tell you one way or the other at this point. I’d like to see the communication from the Canadian government.”

Bush added the families of the shooting victims would be consulted.

Gregory Dunn, [The accused]’s Calgary based lawyer, said his client welcomed the government's involvement.

“They want an assurance the state of Arkansas will not be seeking the death penalty. That’s good news for [The accused],” said Dunn, following [The accused]’s fifth detention hearing where he was ordered to remain in custody for another 30 days.

“Canada does not deport individuals who are... at risk of being executed. We don’t deport people to Afghanistan to be executed. We don’t deport people to Iraq to be executed. We don’t deport people to the Untied States to be executed.”

The development angered justice advocates, however who say [The accused] should be dealt with by U.S. justice without interference from Canada.

“Coming to Canada should not get you out of accepting responsibility for a crime, whatever the consequences are,” said Shawn Howard, founder of the Canadian Justice Foundation.

“We can argue about the death penalty, but to me that’s a different issue. The issue is fleeing the country... and getting a lesser punishment than someone else would, and to me that’s not justice.

“The rules are the rules- they’re not suggestions.”

The federal request comes six years after the Supreme court of Canada ruled that the government cannot send accuse killers to U.S. to face the death penalty except in “exceptional cases.” The ruling found the death penalty to violate the Charter or Rights. A United Nations committee has also ruled that countries that have abolished the death penalty cannot remove people by deportation or extradition if they could be sentenced to death, “without insuring the death sentence will not be carried out.”

Girouard said the U.S. has given assurance in past cases that the death penalty would be waived.

The Supreme Court ruling also means that if the U.S. refuses to waive the death penalty, [The accused] could possibly be released in Canada.

‘If the United States comes back and indicates they are not going to waive the death penalty, it's going to be much more difficult for the Canadian authorities... to deport him,” said Dunn.

“The difficulty the government of Canada has is that we can’t detain him indefinitely on charges that are not arising within the country.”

“[The accused] has avoided removal from Canada by applying for a pre-removal risk assessment, a report that will determine whether he would face persecution if sent to face justice in the U.S.

That report will be delayed further following this diplomatic note. The pre-removal risk assessment unit, part of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, will await a decision from Arkansas law officials regarding the death penalty before filing its report.

Paul Kyba, an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Protection board, said a decision will eventually have to be made on [The accused]’s fate. However, he said the diplomatic note meant further delay was necessary.

“Indefinite detention cannot be tolerated,” he said.

The Canada Board Services Agency is ready to remove [The accused] from Canada. It, too, must now wait for a decision from the U.S. State Department and the pre-removal risk assessment unit.

“Our number one priority is to remove this individual as soon as we can, but there’s due process that has to be followed,” said border services spokeswoman Lisa White.

Arkansas is one of 38 states that continue to sanction the death penalty. Since 1976, the state has executed 27 people. Criminals convicted of a capital offence are put to death by lethal injection, or ordered to serve life imprisonment without parole.