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Court chides minister for rejecting inmate's prison-transfer request

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews speaks during a Vancouver news conference on Jan. 19, 2011.


Public Safety Minister Vic Toews acted in an unreasonable manner when he rejected a Canadian drug smuggler's bid to be transferred from a U.S. jail to Canada, the Federal Court has ruled in setting aside the minister's decision.

The court gave Mr. Toews 60 days to review the inmate's application again and come up with better arguments to explain why he won't let the trafficker serve the rest of his sentence in Canada.

Nicola Del Vecchio was involved in a cocaine-smuggling conspiracy with a criminal ring of Colombian origin and the FBI also had information that he was affiliated with the crime family of Montreal Mafia godfather Vito Rizzuto, the ruling noted.

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However, the Oct. 5 ruling by Madam Justice Anne Mactavish noted that neither the minister nor the Correctional Service of Canada had evidence that Mr. Del Vecchio was still involved with organized crime.

"Not all individuals convicted of offences related to organized crime will pose a threat to Canada or to Canadians should they serve their foreign sentences in Canada," Judge Mactavish wrote.

The minister has discretionary powers to decide these applications but "he must also explain his reasoning in coming to the conclusion that a transfer is not warranted in a given case. He did not do so here."

When they have the consent of American authorities, Canadians sentenced in the United States often apply for a transfer because they would be closer to their families and because they would get released earlier in Canada. The final decision to allow a transfer is left to the discretion of the public safety minister.

Mr. Del Vecchio, now 42, has been behind bars since his Oct. 21, 2000, arrest.

According to court filings, he was a middleman for a Montreal female kingpin of Colombian origin, 55-year-old Alix Osorio, and her son, Luis Felipe.

Mr. Del Vecchio recruited a truck driver, Michael Nittolo, who was supposed to transport 120 kilos of cocaine from New Jersey to Montreal.

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However, Mr. Nittolo was intercepted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. In a reverse sting operation, the DEA and the RCMP then set up a bogus cocaine delivery. The drug that Mr. Del Vecchio later picked up at a warehouse in the Montreal West Island was instead powdered soap. RCMP officers arrested him shortly afterward.

Extradited to New Jersey and tried in 2003, he received a sentence of 15 years and eight months.

Ms. Osorio was sentenced to 11 years and three months. She was transferred back to Canada in December 2007. Last December, Mr. Toews approved Mr. Nittolo's transfer to Canada.

Mr. Del Vecchio (whose name is spelled Delvicchio in some American court records) remained however in U.S. custody.

Judge Mactavish said Mr. Toews's decision fails to specify whether or not the minister took in consideration the fact that Mr. Del Vecchio's accomplices were now back in Canada.

"The Minister's complete silence on the question of relative treatment in this case appears … inconsistent and arbitrary, with the result that the decision therefore lacks the transparency required of a reasonable decision," Judge Mactavish wrote.

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U.S. authorities have consented since 2006 to let Mr. Del Vecchio serve his sentence in Canada. However, two of his previous applications were turned down by Mr. Toews's predecessors, Stockwell Day and Peter Van Loan.

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