The Supreme Court of Canada will weigh in on whether the mother and uncle of a young British Columbia woman slain in India can face trial in that country, in a case that raises questions about India's treatment of convicted criminals.
David Matas, a Winnipeg-based human-rights lawyer who dealt with issues surrounding extradition and the fair treatment of accused in the case of Chinese billionaire Lai Changxing, said in an interview on Thursday that the Supreme Court is clearly acting because of division in the legal community about issues in the case.
The Crown is appealing a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that set aside an extradition order for Malkit Kaur Sidhu, 65, and 70-year-old Surjit Singh Badesha, the mother and uncle, respectively, of Jaswinder Sidhu.
The 25-year-old was stabbed to death in Punjab in 2000 – a killing allegedly arranged by her mother and uncle because she had married a man from an inferior social class.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered their extradition to India in 2014 to face charges of murder and conspiracy.
But in a split ruling, the appeal court set aside a surrender order for extradition from the federal government, raising concerns about the pair being subject to violence, torture or neglect if sent to India.
The Supreme Court, as usual, did not provide any explanation for agreeing to hear the case.
"It's notable when the Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear any matter because their criterion for granting leave is public interest or public importance," Mr. Matas said.
There is a view among some in the international community, he said, that people should not be sent to any country for prosecution when assurances of their fair treatment are needed.
Mr. Matas dealt with similar issues as the lawyer for Mr. Lai, who was implicated in corruption scandals in China. It sought his return from Canada so he could be prosecuted, and an extended extradition battle – featuring questions about whether Mr. Lai would be tortured – ended with him being deported to China in 2011. Mr. Lai, who spent several years in Vancouver as the process went through the courts, is now serving a life sentence.
"I look at what has happened in this case with India," Mr. Matas said. "It's sort of like China did initially [with Mr. Lai]. They just said, 'We're not going to torture.'" However, an extended assessment of that assurance took place nonetheless.
Asked whether Mr. Lai has been tortured, Mr. Matas said he is aware of a concern about medical care that led the Canadian government to say that assurances were only valid until his conviction and didn't apply thereafter.
Mr. Matas described the question of the fair treatment of accused in various countries around the world as a "big, vexed, human-rights international law issue."
Nicole Barrett, a law professor and director of the International Justice and Human Rights Clinic at the University of British Columbia, said the top court is getting involved in an interesting debate on whether deference should be extended to a country – in this case India – that declares its law will address concerns identified by Canadian courts.
Professor Barrett said there has been an "old-school" approach that says countries deserve deference when it comes to legal approaches, but questions are being raised about this convention.
Mark Klein, the lawyer for Mr. Badesha, said in an interview that there wasn't much he could say about the Supreme Court development.
"You make submissions and it's in the hands of the court to deal with it in the way they see fit," he said. "The real issue will come when the case is actually argued and the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada."
He said he expected the hearing to take place in February or March of next year.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the federal Justice Department could not comment in detail on the case because it is before the courts, but added, "The government looks forward to presenting its case to the court."