Canada: Nation's 'moral authority' betrayed

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Canada: Nation's 'moral authority' betrayed

Post  NEADP on Sat Jun 21, 2008 10:23 pm

Nation's 'moral authority' betrayed: advocate----Canadian authorities should have demanded no-death-penalty guarantee from U.S. before handing over fugitive, critics argue


Richard Curran is a depraved "crazy" man who brutally murdered his ex-wife Tina in August 2005, even the lawyer for the former Pennsylvania police chief admitted this week in court.

Armed with his state-issued .40-calibre Glock handgun, Mr. Curran confronted the 31-year-old nurse outside the hospital where she worked and -- allegedly over a dispute about his unpaid child support for their 2 daughters -- shot her 7 times at close range.

5 other bullets missed the target.

A monster? By all accounts, yes -- a monster who faced death by lethal injection after a jury found him guilty on Thursday of 1st-degree murder. Mr. Curran was sentenced to life in prison with no parole, the Associated Press reported last night.

But in response to Canwest News Service inquiries about the case, human rights advocates -- including the head of Amnesty International's Canadian branch -- say Mr. Curran's possible execution highlights a glaring loophole in Canada's official opposition to capital punishment and, in the words of the country's leading death-penalty critic, Mark Warren, a betrayal of Canada's "moral authority" on the practice.

In fact, says Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian government should immediately begin lobbying to avert Mr. Curran's possible death sentence.

That's because Mr. Curran, just hours after killing his ex-wife in the Harrisburg-area town of Shamokin 3 years ago, was stopped at the U.S.-Canada border in Niagara Falls, Ont.

He was arrested by Canadian officials and then promptly handed over to American authorities -- without Canada seeking assurances the Pennsylvania fugitive would not face the death penalty.

Since 2001, the country's firm policy in extradition cases is to demand a no-execution guarantee from U.S. prosecutors before any American or Canadian citizen facing a murder charge is sent southward to face justice.

Earlier this year in Montreal, in the case of a U.S. man facing deportation and a murder charge in South Carolina, the Canadian government sought and received assurances from American officials that the alleged killer would not be put to death if found guilty.

The recent cross-border transfer of that suspected killer, Roger Eugene Shephard, made clear that Canada's no-death-penalty policy in extradition cases also applies to deportations.

But as Mr. Curran's case shows, Canada doesn't always insist on receiving a no-execution promise from American authorities before sending murder suspects back to the U.S.

This week, in fact -- as Pennsylvania prosecutors built their death-penalty case against the former Millerstown, Pennsylvania, police chief by detailing his movements on the day he gunned down his former wife -- 4 officers from the Canada Border Services Agency took the witness stand to recount how they nabbed the suspicious traveller, found a weapons cache in his car, and quickly turned him over to their U.S. counterparts.

"The overriding principle here," says Mr. Neve, "is that Canada should not be handing people over to officials in another country -- through whatever legal process -- when there's a likelihood they're going to face the death penalty."

Both Mr. Neve and Mr. Warren have sworn affidavits in support of a lawsuit filed by Ronald Smith, the Canadian double-murderer facing execution in Montana in a case that has put the federal Conservative government's views on capital punishment under a spotlight.

Last fall, after Canadian diplomats had spent years trying to win clemency for Mr. Smith in keeping with Canada's long-standing opposition to the death penalty, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government was halting all efforts on Smith's behalf to avoid sending the "wrong signal" to Canadians about violent crime.

Despite that decision, the Harper government has confirmed it will abide by a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that -- consistent with Canada's abolition of capital punishment in 1976 -- directs Canadian officials to seek no-execution assurances before extraditing suspected killers to the U.S., or any other country that has the death penalty.

The case involving Mr. Shephard -- who fled to Canada after allegedly killing a store clerk in 2006, and was returned to South Carolina earlier this month to face a first-degree murder charge -- reinforced Canadian policy on the matter.

But a Canwest News Service probe into how the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) deals with potential death-penalty cases on the front line of Canada-U.S. relations suggests there is no special consideration given to the matter when it comes to the transfer of detainees facing the ultimate punishment south of the border.

The agency, which is under the purview of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, told Canwest News Service earlier this week that it's consulting other government departments -- Immigration, Justice and Foreign Affairs all have a stake in the issue -- before responding to questions about CBSA protocol in death-penalty cases.

In a preliminary response, however, an agency spokeswoman stated: "At the CBSA, we work diligently to ensure that persons who represent a danger to Canada are detained and removed. It is important to note that removals are only carried out after all legal venues have been exhausted."

But Mr. Curran's case clearly illustrates the CBSA's neighbourly willingness to assist U.S. border officials in the expeditious, no-strings-attached return of a suspect fleeing murder charges stateside.

Within a day of his arrest at the Rainbow Bridge crossing at the Ontario-New York border, Mr. Curran was back in the hands of U.S. law-enforcement officials and destined for a death-penalty trial in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Warren, an Ottawa-based human-rights researcher and consultant, says Canadian border guards should be applauded for blocking the entry of a suspected criminal and sending him swiftly back to the U.S. to be dealt with by American authorities.<>P> But he says "there should be an exception made in death-penalty cases," adding the CBSA's handling of such situations raises "significant legal and moral issues."

"My sense is there's no protocol," he says, for dealing with the unique circumstances of someone seeking entry to this country when that person is fleeing murder charges and could face execution.

Canada, he says, has taken a "Rubicon decision" as a nation to oppose the death penalty and -- through its extradition policy -- to let other countries know that "we will not have anything to do with helping" them facilitate an execution.

The apparent loophole at the border needs to be closed, he says.

"I think there is a loss of moral authority."

Mr. Neve agrees the CBSA's transfer polices need to be examined, and says Canada has a further obligation in the case of Richard Curran.

"It would certainly be commendable," he says, "to see Canadian officials make representations to the governor -- or to relevant officials in the state of Pennsylvania -- with a strong Canadian request, that the death penalty be taken off the table. Canada does have some responsibility here."

(source: The Ottawa Citizen)

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