Canadian held in Dutch jail for the US

The RCMP and the DEA say that Paddy Roberts flew planeloads of cannabis from Canada to the US until his arrest on August 7, 1999. Roberts’ story is an intriguing mystery involving rings of alleged plutonium smugglers, cocaine dealers turning state’s evidence against marijuana dealers, and an international scandal that made Canada’s premier investigative television news show, CBC’s The Fifth Estate.
Roberts currently sits in a Dutch prison cell, waiting to see whether Canadian authorities will ask for him back so he can finish standing trial, or whether they will allow the DEA to take him to the US to be tried for the same alleged offenses there.

Cross-border bust

When Paddy Roberts was busted by a multinational narcotics squad of Mounties and DEA agents in 1999, he was charged with conspiracy to export cannabis by Canada’s RCMP, and with conspiracy to import cannabis by the DEA. According to Roberts, this makes him one of the first to be charged by Canada and the US for the same offense at the same time, a fundamental violation of his rights in both countries called double jeopardy.

In a series of interviews in the winter of 2001, Roberts gave Cannabis Culture an exclusive on his side of the story. During one interview at his trailer in Winlaw, BC, a helicopter hovered overhead, an unmarked car parked suspiciously near the end of his driveway, and Roberts told me about the wiretaps, Global Positioning System bugs, and constant surveillance he had been subject to since the ’99 bust. Although he believed he would not be found guilty in Canada, he saw his chances of being convicted in the US as much greater.

“All of the people in this case are [also]indicted in the States, almost solely on info supplied by the RCMP,” he shouted over the chopper blades. “So if we act up too much they will throw out our case in Canada and we will be extradited to the US.”

American jailers

Roberts’ comments now seem prescient. In fact, Canadian authorities might not even have to actually toss his case to the US, but rather seem intent on just letting the Americans snap him up without resistance.

When his plane landed in Holland on September 4, 2002, Roberts was grabbed by Dutch cops and carted away. Even as they slammed the door on his cell, polite Dutch authorities apologized to him for his arrest: they were only following orders issued by the DEA! The DEA hope to extradite Roberts from Holland and force him to face marijuana charges in the US, although he is in the middle of a trial on those same charges in Canadian courts.

Roberts had received legal permission to leave the country during his ongoing trial from Canadian prosecutor Peter Eccles. Now Roberts believes that Eccles ? the only person that Roberts told of his impending flight to Holland ? may have tipped off the DEA.

If Roberts’ accusations are true, it is a shameful commentary on the Canadian justice system that they would so readily hand over a Canadian citizen to face trial for offenses committed in Canada, and for which he is currently standing trial in Canada.

American authorities like getting Canadians into US jails. They were just as eager to nab Paddy’s co-accused Peter Roberts (no relation to Paddy), who also faced charges in both countries after the bust. Peter’s job, according to investigators, was to pick up pot dropped by plane on the American side.

Since Peter was in Canada and not eager to voluntarily head to the US to face charges, US prosecutors sent him a letter telling him that his charges had been dropped, and that he should pick up his seized truck at the border. Yet when Peter arrived at the border he had a nasty surprise. The letter was a scam. US cops arrested him, and now he’s in a Pennsylvania prison.

Bad company

Paddy Roberts acknowledged that the company he was keeping combined with his previous marijuana charges made him a prime suspect in the case. He got five years in 1987 after flying a Cesna airplane with “800 pounds of sensi from the Bahamas to New Brunswick.” Although he was arrested in Canada, gun-wielding American agents testified against him.

Roberts says that he’s gone straight, yet has never given up challenging the drug war in the most provocative ways he could devise. He created a company called “external validations” to advise people when they were being surveilled, wiretapped or investigated. He would watch his customers by plane and see if they were being followed on the ground. He told me that, officially, the service was not for drug dealers.

Paddy Roberts said that he first met Colin Martin, the alleged ringleader of the marijuana smuggling operation, on June 18, 1998, and heard that police had confiscated over a half million in cash from Martin, without finding evidence of drug dealing or wrongdoing.

“Martin? wanted my help to get the money back,” Roberts told me. “Police have a theory that he had that money for some kind of drugs. We put together a plan, hopefully, to get police to perform raids at the wrong time to explode their theory that he was involved with pot.”

According to Paddy Roberts, the plan was to make police believe that they were smuggling marijuana into Kelowna, when in fact all they were smuggling were bags filled with cabbage, with a sign pinned to them saying “give the money back.”

Whether they ever carried out their plan or what the result was is unclear, but contact with Martin proved more dangerous than Roberts could have hoped. Normal people get enough vicarious excitement watching TV. What were Roberts’ motives for such a hair-raising scheme?

Nobody’s fool

Roberts is no fool. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University and a Masters of Business from Trinity College in Dublin. He has worked in air crash investigation, air business development and piloting planes and helicopters throughout North-America, Europe and Asia. He has thoroughly studied drug policy, and ran as a powerful candidate with the BC Marijuana Party in the 2001 provincial election, after which he split with the party to found his own radical branch of pot activism.

From the time I spent with him, I would characterize Paddy Roberts as worldly, streetwise and overconfident. He wasn’t likely to be tricked by any kind of scam, but he was daring and idealistic enough to get himself into trouble.

It soon became obvious to me from examining extensive court transcripts, police documents and photos that the DEA and RCMP had very little real evidence against Paddy Roberts, and had committed a number of serious blunders during their investigation. The plane Roberts flew doesn’t match the plane witnessed by American authorities. The prosecution’s main informant didn’t recognize Roberts’ photograph. The wiretap evidence is thoroughly inconclusive and prosecutors have yet to prove it is Roberts’ voice in their recordings. But Roberts’ case isn’t about evidence; it is about the very influential people that he offended.

International controversy

Paddy Roberts spat in the face of the US drug war in 2001 when he released information about his bust to CBC’s The Fifth Estate, sparking an investigation into why so many Canadian bud smugglers were being arrested when not a single American cocaine smuggler had been caught by cops in years. The Fifth Estate episode created an international controversy, with American authorities making several publicity busts of American cocaine shipments to Canada within the next few months.

The investigation against Paddy Roberts, Colin Martin and Peter Roberts began to really take off when police convinced a member of Martin’s alleged smuggling team, Dennis Dober, to become an informer. The Fifth Estate backed Roberts’ claim that Dober had charges of trafficking in cocaine dropped in return for ratting out his friends.

Court documents show that Dober also received $440,000 in return for promising to testify in either Canadian or American courts, as necessary. The money was, ostensibly, compensation for the RCMP’s role in “accidentally” revealing Dober’s identity as an informant in court documents disclosed to Paddy Roberts and Colin Martin ? a convenient strategy that would secure Dober’s testimony in court.

Hot potato

While Roberts scratches another line on the wall of his Dutch cell to count the days, many others are scratching their heads over what to do with him. Roberts argues that he has a right to finish his case in Canada, and is asking Holland to send him back.

Roberts will only be returned to Canada if Canadian authorities also request his extradition, but Canadian authorities have not done so. Ian Donaldson, a lawyer defending one of the co-accused in the case, believes that Canadian authorities might be intentionally leaving Roberts to hang in the wind, as they have acted quickly in similar cases in the past. Roberts smells trouble in Canada’s reluctance to help him, especially since he had openly planned to release yet more embarrassing evidence against the RCMP during the course of his own trial.

Although the US’ extradition warrant for Roberts expired on November 3, US prosecutors have asked Dutch authorities to extend the time they have to renew their request, which means they are likely to continue seeking to get Roberts into an American jail.

As law enforcement becomes an international enterprise, will we see more justice or less? Will Canada continue to hand over their justice system to American interests? The Paddy Roberts story tells of an unfortunate future in which justice is not only blindfolded, but bound and gagged.

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