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Romania: Canada Rejects Extradition Of Taiwanese Officers

  • Carol Macivor

Ottawa, 10 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The case of six Taiwanese officers accused of killing Romanian stowaways on the high seas remains up in the air.

A Canadian court judge ruled last week that he does not have the authority to order that the six be sent from Canada to Romania to stand trial because the crimes they are alleged to have committed did not take place in Romania.

However, Justice Michael MacDonald says that, in the court's view, there is ample evidence for charging the officers with second degree murder and manslaughter.

The case is now in a kind of legal limbo. Romania initiated the extradition proceedings after the container ship Maersk Dubai landed in the east coast Canadian port of Halifax last May.

The ship's officers are alleged to have set three Romanian stowaways over the side of the ship during two separate voyages from Europe to Canada last year.

A total of 41 witnesses, including four Filipino crew members from the ship, testified at the extradition hearing. The Romanian government argued that, under its criminal law, it can prosecute crimes against its citizens even if the crimes occur outside of the country.

The federal prosecutor, James Martin, acting on behalf of Romania, sought -- and was granted -- an appeal as soon as the judge�s decision was released. In the meantime, the six officers are out of jail and free to go anywhere they want within Canada.

Defense lawyers say they will now seek a court order to release their clients� passports, now in court custody, claiming that if Canada has no jurisdiction over ordering extradition then it doesn�t have the right to hold the Taiwanese passports.

One of the other legal difficulties that while international law dictates that the flag state -- Taiwan -- try such cases, Canada has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan -- and therefore, no extradition treaty. The Taiwanese government, since the beginning of the affair, has demanded that the six officers be handed over to stand trial for the murders in their homeland. Chinese officials in Beijing also want to take over the case.

Taiwanese officials who were in Halifax for the ruling repeated that on Thursday. Andrew Hsia, Deputy Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada, told journalists that he hopes Canadian authorities will surrender all the evidence it has to his government Iso that we can start a thorough investigation and prosecution.

The case has highlighted the legal difficulties of prosecuting when crimes are committed on the high seas. It has also focused attention on the growing global problem of people seeking to migrate from war-torn or impoverished countries. Some refugee groups say that Western countries, including Canada, have created an incentive for murder by levying penalties on shipping companies that carry stowaways into port.

Immigration lawyer Lee Cohen says the decision means "open season on stowaways on the high seas. It seems that unless the country of registry takes action against this kind of behavior, no other country has the authority to take any action at all and that's got to be very discouraging."

But Cohen says there was a similar case in 1995 that resulted in a French court convicting the Ukrainian captain and four crewmen of the MC Ruby for killing eight Africans who had stowed away on their ship.

In Canada, shipping companies face fines of seven-thousand dollars a person to cover administrative costs and return travel if a stowaway is returned to his or her home country. Lee says that while most large shipping companies have stowaway insurance, the deductibles are so high that they rarely make claims for the immigration penalties.

David Garon, Manager of Marine Administration with the Shipping Federation of Canada, tells RFE/RL that stowaways are a major financial headache for shipping companies. He argues that "they should not be forced into the role of front-line immigration agents."

He says shippers are "going to some lengths to root out stowaways before a ship leaves port." For example, he says some companies use carbon-dioxide detectors to sniff out stowaways. Other companies have adopted extreme security measures, especially around container facilities.

Such steps seem to be working. The number of stowaways found entering Canadian ports last year totaled 151, compared to 422 in 1991. The majority of stowaways getting to Canada have been Romanian.