Ottawa’s refusal to allow a Canadian serving a U.S. prison term for drug trafficking to transfer to a Canadian prison suggests the Conservatives’ law-and-order stance is affecting its decisions, the NDP claim.
The New Democrats are supporting efforts by the family of B.C. resident Perley Holmes to get Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to reconsider his transfer denial.
Public safety critic Don Davies says statistics suggest the number of transfers approved under federal legislation has declined since the Tories took power in 2006.
“I think the minister is reading into this act ideological considerations that are not present in the legislation,” said Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway.
It’s part of the Tories’ philosophy to leave Canadians caught up on a foreign justice system to deal with it on their own, he said.
“You can see that all over the place, whether it’s the Omar Khadr case or their approach to any kind of incarceration issue,” Davies argued.
The Corrections Service of Canada report on international transfers, ending with fiscal 2006-07, says 39.4 per cent of applications in the last five years were denied, while 27.9 per cent were approved.
Davies said while the number of applications between 2003-04 and 2006-07 ranged in the mid-to-high 200s, approvals dropped sharply to 53 in 2006-07, from 90 in 2005-06.
“I see a precipitous drop on approvals in the first year of the Conservatives taking power,” he said.
However, the statistics aren’t so clear cut.
Months can go by between applications and decisions so there’s no correlation by year. Many are also denied by the country — most often the U.S. — where the offender is imprisoned.
Van Loan’s press secretary, Christopher McCluskey, wouldn’t comment on the Holmes case, citing privacy concerns.
“What I can tell you is each application for transfer back to Canada is carefully considered and decisions on transfer cases are made in accordance with the terms of the International Transfer of Offenders Act,” he said in an email.
“This 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 countries criminal and correctional system.”
Holmes, a former union executive, was sentenced to eight years in a U.S. federal prison after pleading guilty to helping smuggle 61 kilograms of cocaine across the border from his property on the Canada-U.S. border near near Osoyoos, B.C. in January 2007.
Holmes was caught but a second man escaped back into Canada.
Holmes drew a lengthy sentence in July 2007 because he would not identify his accomplice.
A month after being jailed in the privately run Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Pennslyvania, Holmes, 53, applied to serve his term in Canada under the International Transfer of Offenders Act.
The law allows for transfers on humanitarian, compassionate or rehabilitative grounds.
In his April 2 letter rejecting the application, Van Loan said Holmes could be paroled after serving five years of his U.S. sentence and should be on supervised release there.
“This part of his sentence and its important rehabilitative purpose will not be served if he is transferred to Canada,” Van Loan writes.
Holmes’s file also indicated links to organized crime, including allegations he received $20,000 cash each time his residence was used as a smuggling base, the minister writes.
“It is neither acceptable in the general context of the administration of justice nor (the act) to allow a transfer of such an offender,” Van Loan’s letter says.
The government has tabled tough new legislation to crack down on gang activity and drug dealing.
Sheila Holmes denied her husband had a gang connection or that he received multiple payments. He admitted getting $10,000 for a one-time smuggling venture, she said.
RCMP raided the Holmes property after his arrest and found no evidence of drugs or trafficking paraphernalia, but did seize six handguns and an assault rifle.
Holmes’s MP, New Democrat Alex Atamanenko said he is paying for his mistake. But it’s a hardship on his family, including his eight children and 87-year-old mother, to have him in a prison across the country.
Sheila Holmes is preparing to travel to Pennslyvania for the first time to visit her husband. Their contact up to now has been by phone and mail.
“It’s almost like he’s dead because he’s out of the picture and yet you can still talk to him,” she said in an interview.
“It’s been hard any everybody. It’s served to break up the family. Everybody has mixed feelings and they’re always changing.”
The conditions at low-security Moshannon Valley are “abhorrent,” she said.
“They have beans and rice, beans and rice and beans and rice, and maybe once a week they might get some shredded cabbage,” she said.
“Anything else they want they have to buy in the commissary … The prices are highly inflated.”
Moshannon Valley, houses about 1,300 inmates, many of them foreigners.
At one time they included David Radler, the former Hollinger International executive convicted of fleecing the newspaper chain’s investors. He was later transferred to a Canadian prison, then paroled.
Davies said the Holmes file is a classic case for using the transfer agreement.
“Holmes was convicted of a relatively serious offence, nobody’s disputing that,” he said.
“He’s got eight kids. He’s apparently well regarded in his community; he’s not like a hardened criminal.”
Davies said he is puzzled by Van Loan’s contention Holmes should get supervised release in the United States.
“What I find most disturbing about that is the implicit suggestion that the Canadian correctional system is not capable of rehabilitation programs,” he said.
“He’s suggesting the American correction system can provide rehabilitative programs that ours can’t?”
– Article from The Canadian Press.