National Post (Latest Edition)
Prisoner transfers scaled back
Requests to serve time in Canada being denied
O T TAWA • The Conservative government has become the first in a decade to deny Canadian citizens imprisoned in the United States the chance to serve out their sentences in Canada.
Documents from the Correctional Service of Canada, the agency that deals with international prisoner transfers, show that from 1997 to 2005, Ottawa approved every application to transfer a convict from a U.S. to a Canadian prison.
In 2006, the year the federal Conservatives took power, five transfer requests were denied, even though U.S. authorities had approved the transfers.
This year, as of June, 12 transfer requests already approved by the U.S. had been turned down by Canada, while only two were approved.
In the five years before the Conservatives took charge of the agency, the government approved an average of 38 transfers from U.S. prisons each year.
The new stand appears to reflect the views of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who is responsible for transfers.
In a column published last November in the Penticton Western News, a newspaper in his British Columbia riding, Mr. Day wrote of his disgust with prison transfers for convicted drug dealers.
“B.C. dope dealers busted in the U.S. are demanding to be transferred back to cozier Canadian jails and reduced prison times,” he wrote.
“Memo to drug dealer: I’m no dope ... Enjoy the U.S.”
John Conroy, a B.C. defence lawyer who represents several Canadian convicts whose transfers have been turned down by the government, blames Mr. Day directly for the policy.
“Is Mr. Day acting in the public interest or because of a peculiar attitude he has toward various offences?” Mr. Conroy asks.
Mr. Day declined a request for an interview, but his spokeswoman said the new government policy is part of the Conservatives’ hard line on crime, some- thing the party campaigned on in the last election.
“[The annual transfer numbers] show that the previous Liberal government put criminals’ rights first,” Melisa Leclerc said. “We do not. Canada’s new government will always put the security of Canadians and their communities first.”
However, federal documents show that the corrections agency believes that transfer programs actually contribute to public security.
A 2005 internal report on t he agency ’s international transfer of offenders program said convicts who are transferred home f all under the watch of Canadian authorities, who can monitor their behaviour in prison and assess their risk to society.
“The alternative is that the offender is deported to Canada (at the completion of his or her U.S. sentence) without correctional supervision/jurisdiction and without the benefit of programming and a gradual structured release into the community,” the report says.
Canada’s International Transfer of Offenders Act says the minister has discretion to refuse transfers if the applicants are a threat to the “security of Canada,” if they have abandoned Canada as their place of permanent residence, or if they lack family or social ties in this country. The minister must also consider whether the foreign prison system is a threat to the offenders’ human rights.
Since 2006, Mr. Day has denied transfers to at least two Canadians on security grounds, including Arend Getkate, a 24year-old Ontario man serving a 30-year sentence in Georgia for child molestation. Both U.S. and Canadian corrections officials had approved his request, but Mr. Day overrode it.
Canadian Sacha Bond, 22, who reportedly has bipolar disorder, is serving a 20-year sentence in Florida for attempted murder. He has also been denied a transfer on national security grounds, a provision of the transfer laws that is intended to keep terrorists or organized crime figures out of the country.
Another Canadian, Plamen Kozarov, 52, is serving a five-year, 10-month sentence in Florida for drug dealing. Mr. Kozarov’s applications for transfer have twice been refused by Mr. Day’s office, on the grounds that Mr. Kozarov abandoned Canada for a life in the U.S.
Mr. Kozarov’s transfer was refused despite a recommendation by correctional authorities to allow it.
Mr. Conroy, who represents Mr. Kozarov, filed for judicial review of the government’s decision. He argued that Mr. Kozarov’s Canadian citizenship and his constitutional mobility rights to enter and exit Canada are not extinguished simply because he is a convicted criminal.
The Federal Court of Canada only partly agreed.
“Plamen Kozarov is a Canadian citizen; not a very good one, but a citizen nevertheless,” Justice Sean Harrington wrote in a decision last month.
But Judge Harrington ultimately sided with the government, saying a citizen isn’t free to exercise his mobility rights as long as he is in jail.
That decision muddied the law, because in 2004 the same court said the government could not delay the transfer of a convicted Canadian whom U.S. officials wanted moved to Canada.
“We now have not only confusion in the law,” says Conroy, “but a situation where citizens in prison outside the country don’t have the right to enter Canada, even when the country in which they did the crime is ready to send them back.
“Many of these people are convicted of bad offences. Nobody’s going to say we should ignore their offences.
“But citizens are still citizens, even after they’re convicted of a crime, and the government can’t just render its citizens stateless.”