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Sikh Community Raises Concerns with the lack of Human Rights in Canada’s Extradition Laws

February 17, 2023 | By

BCGC and OGC submitted a brief to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, calling for urgent reforms incorporating meaningful Charter protections and revoking extradition agreements with countries that have demonstrably poor human rights records.

Ottawa, Canada: The British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC) and Ontario Gurdwaras Committee (OGC) jointly submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights today, which highlights the unfair procedures and lack of human rights protections under Canada’s extradition framework. As it currently stands, Canada’s extradition process is a highly discretionary and politicized process which prioritizes administrative efficiency and the executive’s authority in matters of foreign affairs over maintaining Charter rights and Canada’s international human rights obligations. It is imperative that Canadian legislators proactively address these gaps to accord with the purpose of the Charter and prevent violations rather than merely enabling review after the fact.

Given the expansive authority of Canada’s political executive to make extradition decisions with minimal judicial oversight, it is important that there is no risk—or even a perception—that such decisions may be influenced by electoral calculations, partisan concerns, foreign interference, short-term foreign policy interests or other extrinsic reasons without judicial oversight. This is even more pressing given that Canada’s recent Indo-Pacific Strategy identifies India as a critical partner in achieving its objectives and in response, Indian officials have made comments about “cracking down” on Sikh activism in Canada in a manner suggestive of quid pro quo. Leaving the Minister’s decision-making process virtually unassailable through judicial review leaves Canada’s apparatus open to perceptions that the safety and security of minority communities may be bartered to achieve Canadian foreign policy objectives.

Sikh Community Raises Concerns with the lack of Human Rights in Canada’s Extradition Laws | Images used for representational purpose only

The current procedure is especially concerning in the face of prospective extradition to countries with abhorrent human rights records where persons sought may face the likelihood of unfair trials, mistreatment, politicized criminal proceedings, torture, and/or other oppressive treatment. These concerns are further accentuated for the Sikh community in light of Canada’s wrongful extradition of Hassan Diab in 2014, the torture of Régent Boily in Mexico despite diplomatic assurances, problematic jurisprudence from the SCC and repeated public statements by Indian officials that they intend to initiate extradition proceedings against Sikh activists in Canada.

Canada’s unfair extradition procedure and the highly deferential standard of review leaves racialized communities and other marginalized groups highly vulnerable to foreign states who may abuse Canada’s procedure to stifle political dissent and silence government critics around the world. This is evident in the case of India which has consistently sought to repress Sikh political advocacy for Khalistan, alongside attempts to delegitimize and suppress dissidents living outside of its borders. While using broad anti-terror legislation and extrajudicial violence domestically, Indian agencies have engaged in foreign interference and bad faith interactions with other states in order to secure custody of Sikh activists in the diaspora. The threats posed by India shine light on the cracks in Canada’s overall extradition structure which may be exploited by any number of bad faith actors—illustrating the urgent need for reform and greater protections.

To remedy this, Canada’s extradition legislation and procedure should incorporate meaningful Charter protections and judicial oversight into the process rather than leaving the decision to politicians and bureaucrats. In this regard, the BCGC and OGC strongly endorse the recommendations proposed by the Halifax Colloquium on Extradition Law Reform.

It is imperative that Canada’s extradition framework ensures that Canada maintains a role as a responsible member of the international community. This means international cooperation to ensure that those guilty of serious criminal offences around the world are held accountable, while also ensuring that international norms and human rights principles are upheld throughout the process. This is especially important in a global context in which democratic institutions are constantly being attacked and undermined by authoritarian forces around the world.

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