Conservatives Challenged On Blocked Prisoner Transfers

A constitutional lawyer representing two Canadians in a U.S. prison is taking the Harper government to court to prove it got its facts wrong when it denied them transfers to a Canadian jail.

John Conroy believes Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan should never have denied transfers to Brent Curtis and Mike Dudas, both serving terms in a California prison for separate drug crimes.

Both men were turned down because the minister said, in writing, that they may commit a future “organized crime.”

But Conroy has filed a motion in Federal Court to reverse the minister’s decision. The lawyer questions what evidence the minister relied on.

And, despite their crimes, Conroy says both men are guaranteed the right of return under the Charter.

“They are citizens, and even if you’re a bad citizen, our constitution calls for us to accept their right of return,” Conroy said.

The lawyer also questions how the minister could conclude that these men, one an elite hockey player bound for the NHL, and the other the frontman of an up-and-coming rock band, may one day turn to organized crime when neither man has ever been involved in organized crime.

In a rejection letter to Curtis, Van Loan said Curtis, whose NHL dreams were dashed when he was hit by a truck, was the “money man” in a cocaine conspiracy and has “already taken several steps down the road towards involvement in a criminal organization offence.”

But according to U.S. authorities, who have signed off on a transfer back to Canada, Curtis was a courier for the money man in a Miami cocaine conspiracy. In a sentencing hearing, Curtis was described as a “minor participant.”

The lawyer who represented Curtis in the U.S. has written to the Canadian government to point out that even prosecutors considered Curtis a minor player in the drug conspiracy.

In the case involving Dudas, the U.S. government has also signed off on a transfer for the man who turned himself in at the U.S. border for a marijuana-importation scheme.

The prosecutor in that case has since written a letter to the man’s defence attorney, stating the facts clearly suggested Dudas was far removed from an organized-crime lifestyle and deserved a second chance.

It is not known if Canada’s public safety minister reviewed any of the U.S. files in support of the imprisoned men, both of whom pleaded guilty.

Both men, in separate interviews, have told the Citizen they are not looking to avoid their sentences, but want to serve them closer to support networks.

They are at a privately run, for-profit prison in California, where they are offered no programs. The prison, run by Corrections Corp. of America and located two hours north of Los Angeles, has been locked down for 47 days since a crackdown on Mexican drug cartels. That means the Canadians, both first offenders, spend about 23 hours a day inside their cells.

Conroy, their Vancouver-based lawyer, has filed a motion to the Federal Court not only to overturn Canada’s decision, but to order the public safety minister to produce the documents he relied on to reject the transfers.

“Where did they get this stuff? And how thoroughly did they review the materials? What facts did the minister rely on?” Conroy said.

Van Loan has told the Citizen he can’t speak about specific cases for “privacy reasons” but said his government is committed to the “safety and security of Canadians, and Canadians who commit crimes abroad should know that they run the risk of facing justice in the other country’s criminal and correctional system.”

Both men have said they find it odd that the Harper government, known for being tough on crime, would deny them transfers because if they return to Canada after serving their U.S. sentences they would be spared a criminal record.

If they were granted a transfer, their U.S. criminal records would be put in the Canadian system and they would not be treated as first-time offenders if they broke the law again, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

– Article from The Ottawa Citizen.