A Quebec judge has granted a suspected leader of the Rwandan genocide a deadline-busting reprieve from deportation to his home country.
Léon Mugesera received a one-week stay from Quebec Superior Court so he can argue the federal government must allow a UN agency to examine the risk of torture he faces before sending him back. Mr. Mugesera's new legal team will also argue Ottawa must abide by the UN's findings.
While lawyers obtained the injunction in Montreal, Mr. Mugesera, 59, was laying in a hospital bed in Quebec City, where he was being treated for a reported overdose of medication with Canadian Border Services agents waiting to take him away.
His wife and five grown children issued a statement saying his condition is critical, but offered no details.
The government intends to push ahead with the Mr. Mugesera's removal as soon as possible, according to a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
"We are extremely disappointed with this surprising ruling. CBSA is taking steps to set aside the ruling," spokesman Mike Patton said in a statement.
Legal opinion is split on whether Canada must follow the UN process, but its eventual findings are not considered binding. Mr. Mugesera's lawyer, Philippe Larochelle, said he will challenge on both fronts.
"What's the point of belonging to the convention if you can just flush it down the toilet like the Kyoto Protocol?" said Mr. Larochelle.
The Montreal lawyer, who has defended alleged war criminals at the international tribunal for Rwanda, said there is a "lot of wishful thinking about Rwanda and the risk of torture in that country. I'm always amazed at the level of ignorance of the political and social situation there. But the question here is not about Mr. Mugesera or Rwanda, it's about international law."
Ontario courts confronted a similar question about the jurisdiction of a UN agency in 2002. Mansour Ahani, a suspected Iranian assassin, made a similar UN appeal just before his deportation. That case was settled six months later when the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld his deportation before the UN review was completed and the Supreme Court refused to rehear his case.
In that case, Mr. Ahani was considered a danger to Canada. Ottawa has never suggested Mr. Mugesera poses such a threat.
Mr. Mugesera has spent 17 of his 19 years in Canada fighting deportation, including a failed appeal to the Supreme Court in 2005. It's understandable that some Canadians may be getting impatient with the process, according to Fannie Lafontaine, a professor of international law at Laval University.
But she also pointed out the federal government has spent the past seven years evaluating the potential that Mr. Mugesera might be hurt or killed in Rwanda.
"The risk of torture in Rwanda is currently the subject of fierce international debate, so this move by Mr. Mugesera is not some random, frivolous motion," Prof. Lafontaine said. "It was just months ago that everyone refused to send people back."