Cana­dian in Bul­gar­ian prison ig­nored by Grits

Calgary Herald - - Top News - DON MARTIN

It might not be death row drudgery in Mon­tana or the leg-ironed lifestyle of an Afghanistan in­car­cer­a­tion, but a dozen years in a Bul­gar­ian prison is a cruel life sen­tence, es­pe­cially for a for­mer Cana­dian mil­lion­aire jailed on a ques­tion­able con­vic­tion. While the House of Com­mons erupts into daily howls of in­dig­na­tion at the plight of Tal­iban war­riors claim­ing their shack­les con­sti­tute tor­ture or Ron­ald Smith’s plea to live out his death sen­tence in Canada, Michael Kapoustin has been rot­ting away in a 100-year-old prison in Sofia serv­ing a 17-year sen­tence for de­fraud­ing his own com­pany.

It’s a jaw-drop­ping story of a B.C. busi­ness­man who was ar­rested and ex­tra­dited from Ger­many in 1996 to spend the next six years en­dur­ing tor­ture and soli­tary con­fine­ment be­fore he was con­victed of steal­ing his own money (that was never found).

There are even hints that the RCMP may have helped se­cure his con­vic­tion in Bul­garia, where fair tri­als and hu­mane im­pris­on­ment were in se­ri­ous doubt in the mid-1990s, which gives the story an ob­vi­ous Ma­her Arar aura.

All this went down with­out Canada notic­ing, at least un­til this week when, as my col­league Richard Foot has dis­cov­ered, the Con­ser­va­tives will ramp up the pres­sure on Bul­garia to send Kapoustin home.

The re­spected and ef­fec­tive Coun­cil of Europe will force a me­di­a­tion process on Thurs­day that could pres­sure Bul­garia into fi­nally send­ing Kapoustin back to a fam­ily he has only seen twice. Given the length of time he has served in prison for a rel­a­tively mi­nor white-col­lar crime, it is ex­pected he would im­me­di­ately be freed.

Kapoustin’s fall from high fly­ing cap­i­tal­ist to ru­ined man is a story so cap­ti­vat­ingly bizarre that a Dal­las sports colum­nist familiar with the fam­ily through Kapoustin’s fa­ther, NFL sports fig­ure Bob Kap, wrote a book on his plight.

Au­thor Gene Wil­son tells of Kapoustin’s suf­fer­ing in a cell shared with four other in­mates where he was beaten, de­nied run­ning wa­ter, fed tainted food and forced to en­dure hor­rific san­i­ta­tion.

“It was an ab­so­lute hor­ror story from start to fin­ish. It’s in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing to me and ev­ery­one I talk to that Cana­dian of­fi­cials have not been able to free him,” Wil­son says. “And yet Michael re­mains so up­beat and op­ti­mistic it amazes ev­ery­one.”

The more you study this silent saga, the more in­cred­u­lous it be­comes that Kapoustin’s story has never echoed in a Com­mons alive to the sound of politi­cians de­fend­ing Afghan pris­on­ers and con­victed mur­der­ers.

But if the Lib­er­als don’t raise a ruckus now, even while ris­ing to fret over the global plight of oth­ers, there’s an ex­pla­na­tion.

It turns out they con­sis­tently re­jected op­por­tu­ni­ties to pres­sure the Bul­gar­i­ans on Kapoustin’s be­half while they were in power. The only time it was raised by an MP was in the late 1990s by then-Re­form MP Bob Mills, who had his con­cern shrugged off with­out an an­swer.

Toronto lawyer Dean Paroff, who took the case 18 months ago for noth­ing be­cause he was so con­vinced an in­jus­tice had taken place, says the Lib­er­als have shown “chronic in­ep­ti­tude and in­dif­fer­ence” to the plight of Cana­di­ans abroad.

“They washed their hands of this case at the worst pos­si­ble time and it in­flicted a tremen­dous dev­as­ta­tion on the fam­ily. It was an ab­di­ca­tion of their re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he says.

Only when Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper was con­tacted and a dis­gusted Sec­re­tary of State Ja­son Ken­ney flew over to check on Kapoustin per­son­ally in Septem­ber 2006 was suf­fi­cient pres­sure ap­plied to send it be­fore Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties.

How could this be al­lowed to hap­pen? The Bul­gar­ian Helsinki Com­mit­tee de­scribes that coun­try’s prison sys­tem as one of se­vere over­crowd­ing, lousy food and poor san­i­ta­tion.

Now in a more mod­ern prison, Kapoustin helps in­mates learn com­puter skills and has been de­clared a model pris­oner by the war­den.

But he clearly spent far too long de­nied con­tact and con­cern from his home coun­try.

“This is not a con­victed dou­ble mur­derer,” says Ken­ney. “We’d sim­ply like our trans­fer re­quest to be taken se­ri­ously.”

If there’s any jus­tice left in the sad case of Michael Kapoustin, it will man­i­fest it­self through his speedy trans­fer to the Cana­dian prison sys­tem, where he will hope­fully spend mere min­utes in a cell be­fore he se­cures his free­dom. Af­ter all, a dozen years in a Bul­gar­ian prison is a life sen­tence to Cana­di­ans.

Michael Kapoustin

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