Ottawa is washing its hands of John Graham, a Yukon man extradited to the United States on murder charges that have since been dropped.
Canada’s handling of the Graham case could hurt the public’s faith in the extradition process, said an extradition expert from Dalhousie University.
“It’s a perfectly legal move,” said Robert Currie, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Law. “But what it may do is undermine the public’s perception of how legitimate the extradition process is.”
Graham, who is a member of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, was extradited in December 2007 to face federal charges that he killed Annie May Aquash, a copatriot in the American Indian Movement, in 1975.
Two weeks ago, a judge in a Rapid Falls, South Dakota court ordered the charges dropped because federal prosecutors could not determine that Graham is a member of a recognized American tribe and establish jurisdiction over the Canadian citizen.
While the reason for Graham’s extradition hinged on the federal charges, the federal Department of Justice is not revisiting the decision to extradite him, said Carole Saindon, a spokesperson for the department.
Canada has given permission for the state charges to proceed – even if they weren’t the basis for his extradition.
“Article 12 of the Canada-US extradition treaty says if he’s extradited for that charge that’s the only charge Canada can try him on, unless Canada consents,” said Currie.
“There’s no indication that he was extradited for anything but the first degree murder charge,” he said.
While legal, the decision to let the state charges proceed rests with the Minister of Justice, Ron Nicholson.
“That’s a political decision,” said Currie.
In the last 30 years, police and other crime control organizations have taken over the extradition process, said Currie.
“What you see is a much more liberal attitude of governments – especially our government – to moving people around,” he said.
The extradition process was originally meant to protect people from sub-standard legal systems, but has now evolved into a process to make international policing easier, he said. “They’re less concerned with protecting the accused person and more concerned that the alleged criminals face justice.”
The shift is a response to the growth of transnational organized crime.
“The police and prosecutors are saying to their governments: ‘We need flexibility, we need tools,’” said Currie.
That attitude risks losing the perception that the process is fair and honest.
“There is a point where people might say you’re failing to protect individuals sufficiently and my opinion is that Canada has failed in that respect in recent years,” he said.
However, because Canada generally considers the US justice system to be fundamentally fair, the government shouldn’t be accused of failing to protect Graham, said Currie.
“There’s a conspiracy theory down there that this is a politicized prosecution,” he said. “But I don’t think the evidence for that is very compelling.
“It’s not like we’re turning him loose in Thailand or anything.”
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