Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Commissioners Marie Wilson, Justice Murray Sinclair and Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission release their interim report during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday February 24, 2012. The

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The excessive harshness of the U.S. "war on drugs" is not something to which Canada need blindly submit when asked to extradite suspected traffickers. We don't have to throw away a young life just because we have international obligations.

Those were the stakes in the United States v. Leonard. Zachary Leonard of the Rainy River First Nations was 18 when he agreed to join a trafficker in taking 46,000 ecstasy pills into the U.S. He faced a presumed sentence of 16 to 20 years; it's a drug that has caused great harm. In Canada, he would have received either house arrest or a short stint in jail, the Ontario Court of Appeal said. He had no adult criminal record (though, to be fair to the U.S., he didn't have much time to acquire one). Free on bail in Canada since he had fled the U.S., the now 24-year-old father of two had taken steps to rehabilitate himself. The court considered his alleged role peripheral in the smuggling.

The aboriginal component of the case made it seem more complex, perhaps, than it is. The Leonard case, and a separate case involving another trafficker, raised the question of whether aboriginal offenders should receive special consideration in extradition cases, as they do in sentencing under the Canadian Criminal Code. The court said they should. He was raised by alcoholic parents, was a substance abuser in his early teens and had a forced residential-school past in the family.

Story continues below advertisement

In general, Canadians who commit crimes abroad need to be prepared to face justice abroad. But there are certain principles which Canada defends – for instance, the courts have blocked extradition to the death penalty. The government has an option in drug cases that, given Mr. Leonard's age, tough background and the sentencing disparity, it could have considered – putting him on trial here.

The aboriginal issue is vexing. Aboriginal offenders should not be exempt from extradition. The court says aboriginal offenders should receive "special consideration," not a get-out-of-jail free card. But sometimes it is hard to tell one from the other.

Still, the appeal court's ruling was thoughtful and just. In the court's view, Mr. Leonard had begun rebuilding his life, and the undue harshness of the U.S. drug war should not be permitted to destroy it.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies