Van Loan ‘Erred’ in Prison Transfer Requests

The Federal Court has ruled that former public safety minister Peter Van Loan erred in not allowing two Canadians back into the country to serve their U.S. prison sentences.

Both men are currently incarcerated for drug offences committed in the United States.

The rulings by Justice John O’Keefe question Van Loan’s denials for transfer and contend that he committed a “key error” in one of the cases. Van Loan, who is now international trade minister, refused the transfers to Canada in May 2009, based on ministerial “opinion” that the offender will commit a “criminal organization” offence.

In the case of Brent James Curtis , serving 57 months for his part in a 100-kilogram cocaine operation in 2007, O’Keefe ruled “there is little in the way of evidence to support” the denial and that “a key error was made in the analysis.”

Curtis had been described as a “transporter” of cocaine by U.S. justice officials. When he was public safety minister, Van Loan refused Curtis’s application for transfer back to Canada because “the offence may have been committed for financial gain” and his role was that of the “money man.”

In his letter to Curtis, Van Loan wrote that the convict’s actions indicated deliberate planning of drug trafficking and demonstrated that he was “several steps down the road towards involvement in criminal organization offence.”

O’Keefe disagreed, writing that Van Loan committed a “key error in coming to the conclusion.” He emphasized that U.S. justice documents stated that Curtis’s colleague indicated he was the money man and referred to Curtis as a transporter.

U.S. Department of Justice officials approved Curtis’s transfer to Canada, and the Correctional Service of Canada indicated it had no reason to believe the applicant had links to organized crime, wrote O’Keefe, who concluded that Van Loan’s decision was “unreasonable and ought to be reconsidered.”

Canadians and Americans held in prisons can request transfers back to their home nations under the International Transfer of Offenders Act, a 30 year-old treaty meant to allow for the rehabilitation of non-violent offenders. If approved, a convict can return to their home nation and enter the domestic prison system.

Second case

The second Federal Court ruling dealt with the case of Michael Dudas, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import marijuana into the U.S. He was sentenced to 60 months in prison in September 2008. Dudas had purchased a helicopter and hired pilots to fly B.C. marijuana into the state of Washington.

Though the U.S. Justice Department had approved his transfer, the Correctional Service of Canada indicated that its Regional Security Intelligence believed Dudas had links to organized crime.

Van Loan denied Dudas’s transfer saying, “I believe he may, after the transfer, commit a criminal organization offence.”

O’Keefe ruled that Van Loan had not sufficiently “expressed which purpose or purposes were most crucially relied on in coming to his ultimate conclusion.”

While he did not question the ministerial prerogative, O’Keefe wrote that the courts “cannot condone nor accept completely unstructured discretion. In circumstances where a decision has such a dramatic effect on the citizen in question, the law requires a complete explanation, however short, for the decision.”

O’Keefe has referred the decisions back to Vic Toews, the current public safety minister, who now has 44 days to reconsider. There was no comment from Public Safety Canada and no mention of Monday’s ruling on the government website.

– Article from CBC News.

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