Marc Emery vs. Roman Polanski: A Tale of Two Extraditions

Canadian libertarian publisher and activist Marc Emery faces extradition to the U.S. on charges related to selling marijuana seeds. Movie director Roman Polanski faces extradition to the U.S. on charges related to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. While the Canadian government refuses to protect its own peaceful, productive natural-born citizen from extradition, Polanski’s adopted country of France is fighting to keep this confessed sex offender from facing the U.S. justice system.

Marc Emery is a quintessential citizen-activist. That is the message one gets from his life so far. Although he has had occasional run-ins with Canadian authorities over his marijuana activism, the worst punishment he experienced before his current arrest was two months in jail. For the most part, Emery was left alone, generating tax revenue for the government and employing numerous people through his publishing and retail businesses. He wasn’t harming anyone, so there was no urgency to deal with him.

Emery’s case contrasts sharply with another extradition case that has been in the news recently. On September 26, 2009, two days before Emery was taken into custody to await extradition to the U.S. on charges related to selling marijuana seeds online, world-renowned movie director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police in Zurich. The Swiss picked him up because of a 1978 U.S. arrest warrant. In 1977 Polanski had drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in Hollywood. Polanski admitted to the crime but subsequently fled to France to avoid a severe American jail term. He could not be extradited from France. Switzerland, however, has an extradition treaty with the U.S. When Polanski arrived in Switzerland, he was met with an arrest at the hands of the Swiss authorities.

Polanski has received support from many prominent American entertainment personalities as well as French politicians including President Nicolas Sarkozy. They do not believe he should be extradited to the U.S. to face the consequences of his crime. Their opposition to Polanski’s extradition, however, is entirely different from the opposition to Marc Emery’s extradition.

For one thing, Polanski committed a heinous crime. Raping a child is clearly execrable and leaves a very identifiable victim. Selling marijuana seeds isn’t obviously a crime, and is only made to be one through legislation. Furthermore, there were no “victims” of Emery’s crime. No one claims to have been harmed by him, and no one has urged the government to punish him. Canadians, for the most part, find him interesting, admirable, and entertaining. They do not think of him as someone deserving a stint in a prison.

Polanski was actually in the U.S. when he committed his crime, whereas Emery was always in Canada. Polanski can be sent back to the place where he perpetrated his crime. Emery can’t be sent “back” to the U.S. because he wasn’t there in the first place. Polanski was a fugitive from justice, but Emery did not run away from anyone and operated his marijuana seed business openly and transparently. Emery even paid income taxes from being a “marijuana seed vendor,” an occupation he volunteered on his tax forms.

Generally speaking, extradition is a good thing. Criminals should not be able to escape the consequences of their crimes simply by moving from one country to another. In this respect extradition can play an important role in achieving justice. But Marc Emery hasn’t tried to escape from anyone. He isn’t running away from the consequences of his actions. In fact, he was openly and publicly declaring what he was doing and why. Being open and honest was part of his political strategy to liberalize Canada’s laws toward marijuana.

Emery’s case isn’t like Polanski’s case at all. Polanski seriously harmed another person and then ran away to avoid punishment. Emery was openly promoting a particular political goal without any attempts to conceal his purpose or his methods. The distinction between the two couldn’t be starker. This comparison helps to bring into focus the proper and improper use of extradition. It’s clear that Polanski should be extradited to the U.S.; it’s not clear that Emery should be extradited. In fact, taking a broad view of the situation, it is not merely unfair that Emery would be sent there for activities carried out in Canada; it’s unjust.

– Article from Western Standard.