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Canada: New Legislation Provides For Extradition Of Suspected Criminals

Ottawa, 8 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- New extradition legislation is being introduced in the Canadian Parliament that will allow for the extradition of suspected war criminals to international tribunals such as the war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

The existing law -- first enacted 120 years ago -- allows Canada to extradite criminal suspects to other countries but not to the tribunal set up by the United Nations to prosecute war criminals from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Madame Justice Louise Arbour, the Canadian judge who is chief prosecutor at The Hague, said in an interview late last year that she has urged Canada repeatedly to change the law "to avoid what I think would be just a horrendous embarrassment."

At the time, she said "dozens of other countries have changed their laws quickly and without fuss and it would be very sad," if she could not serve an arrest warrant in Canada.

In recent years, Canada has extradited about 80 suspected modern-day war criminals. However, the War Crimes Unit at the Justice Department estimates there are more than 300 others still in the country.

Among other planned changes to the law:

The grounds for extradition will be broadened and not limited to a specific list of crimes. This will allow for extradition for new offenses, such as computer crime and international organized crime. This measure is targeted primarily at crime groups made up of Asians, East Europeans and Russians who are an increasing source of concern to Canadian police.

Courts will be allowed to use video and audio-link technology to gather evidence and to provide testimony from witnesses in Canada or abroad. The previous inadmissibility of evidence in this form was a major barrier to pursuing prosecution of suspected World War II war criminals in Canadian courts and one of the reasons Canada changed its tactics from criminal prosecution of alleged Nazis to criminal proceedings to denaturalize and deport. As well, new forms of evidence used in other countries will be admitted into Canadian courts.

A prisoner in a Canadian jail could be surrendered temporarily to another country to stand trial there and then returned to finish the rest of the Canadian sentence.

And, finally, new procedures will allow a fugitive to waive extradition and voluntarily return to the other country. Currently, the law does not provide for this although it takes place in practice.