Monday, November 21, 2016
By Matthew Behrens
The October release of the Chief Public Health Officer’s report on the “staggering” extent of violence against women and children in Canada served as a timely preamble to the annual Shine the Light campaign of Woman Abuse Prevention Month. Among many educational and public activities, Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower lit up November 15 with the campaign’s purple colour.
Campaign supporters include self-identified feminist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who declared in a video statement that “it takes tremendous courage and resilience to break free from abuse. I stand in solidarity with victims, with survivors, and with families and loved ones.”
But there’s at least one abuse survivor who hasn't received Trudeau’s support. MM – her name subject to a publication ban – is a Canadian citizen fighting extradition to the United States, where she faces multiple charges for having rescued her kids from an abusive father. In 2010, MM’s three young children, aged 9, 11 and 14, escaped from their father – who at the time had a sole custody order that prevented MM having contact with the children – and sought refuge in an abandoned house, sleeping on a concrete garage floor. Fearful of going to jail if she took the kids in, MM originally rejected their pleas for shelter. But recognizing the children’s increasingly desperate circumstances, MM’s adult daughter from a previous marriage packed her and the kids in a car and drove them to Canada.
MM was arrested two days shy of Christmas in a Quebec women’s shelter, where the RCMP had tracked her down by tracing the children’s internet log-in passwords. At the time of the arrest, a Mountie acknowledged that the children "expressed their fear of the father.”
Since then, MM’s legal journey has traveled the often oblique world of extradition law. After winning in Quebec Superior Court in 2011 – Madame Justice Carol Cohen dismissed the evidence as "so defective and unreliable that it is not worthy of consideration” – the Harper government appealed on jurisdictional grounds. Last December, the Supreme Court, in a bitterly divided 4-3 decision, upheld the extradition, with the dissenting justices calling the majority’s reasoning “Kafkaesque.”
Writing for the minority, Justice Rosalie Abella pointed out that “the defence of rescuing children to protect them from imminent harm does not exist in Georgia [and] the mother will not be able to raise the defence she would have been able to raise had she been prosecuted in Canada." This contradiction violates a cornerstone of extradition law, the “double criminality” requirement that the Supreme Court acknowledges is a process that ensures Canada is “not embarrassed by an obligation to extradite a person who would not, according to its own standards, be guilty of acts deserving punishment.”
A public campaign to convince the newly-elected Liberals to reconsider the case included MM’s two-week jailhouse hunger strike, which ended on December 23 when freshly-minted Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould agreed to examine new information not available to her precedessor.
But even with the extensive new submissions put before her, including personal appeals from MM’s kids as well as expert U.S. opinion on MM’s inability under Georgia law to mount a proper legal defence, Wilson-Raybould said no. MM received the bad news on the same day that the Minister of Justice announced an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
While MM’s lawyers head to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2017 to judicially review the decision, MM and her youngest children continue to live in the limbo of fear and uncertainty all too familiar to survivors of male violence, one that certainly tests the courage and resilience of which Trudeau speaks.
They also hope that Wilson-Raybould will look at the case once more, and refuse MM’s surrender under Section 44 of the Extradition Act, which allows the Minister to reject any request that is “unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances.”
Such circumstances were certainly clear enough to Justice Abella and her two Supreme Court colleagues, who concluded: “At the end of the day, there is little demonstrable harm to the integrity of our extradition process in finding it to be unjust or oppressive to extradite the mother of young children she rescued, at their request, from their abusive father. The harm, on the other hand, of depriving the children of their mother in these circumstances is profound and, with respect, demonstrably unfair.”
A petition calling on Trudeau to stop the extradition is available at https://www.change.org/p/justin-trudeau-stop-illegal-extradition-of-abuse-survivor-and-single-mom-mm