Fugitives From Other Places Go to Canada to Escape the Heat
Saturday, October 29, 2005
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Fred Gilliland laughed at the short arm of the U.S. law. He would never be brought to justice, he boasted this year to a frequent visitor to his waterfront condo. He had Canada to thank for that.
Gilliland, 53, was charged four years ago by a grand jury in Florida with helping to bilk investors out of millions of dollars in an offshore investment swindle. But he fled to Vancouver, where the tall, tanned con man with the sleek blue BMW could cruise the dockside coffee shops and sweet-talk more victims into investing in stock schemes.
Sure, there were extradition proceedings. But by the time Canada finished its legal hand-wringing, he boasted in March to his acquaintance -- and to a hidden tape recorder -- he would be long gone. To Brazil, maybe, or Belize.
Gilliland, a Canadian citizen, had reason to be confident. Legal experts and law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border say the protracted extradition process and lengthy appeals in Canada let fugitives escape justice for years.
"They've exploited the border," said Sgt. Tim Alder, a fraud specialist with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver. "Extradition is slow and sluggish. We often shake our heads and say, 'What's the problem here?' Canada should not be seen as a sanctuary."
Canadian authorities say they receive an average of 130 to 160 extradition requests from the United States each year for suspects in crimes that include murder, drug offenses, fraud and parental abductions in custody disputes. Authorities say there is no record of how long those requests take and many suspects waive their right to fight extradition and agree to be returned. But those with the will and a good lawyer can snarl the process for years with appeals.
Rakesh Saxena, a high-profile financier wanted by Thai authorities for allegedly embezzling $88 million, has successfully avoided extradition from his home in British Columbia since his arrest nine years ago.
Lai Changxing, called the most-wanted man in China for his alleged involvement in a multibillion-dollar smuggling operation, has been living in Canada for four years fighting extradition.
Another Canadian, Monique Turenne, fought extradition to Florida for almost a decade to avoid facing trial in her husband's murder. She was finally extradited last year.
Extradition becomes even more difficult if capital punishment is involved. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, and in 2001 the Canadian Supreme Court said authorities had to secure -- and review -- a written guarantee from U.S. prosecutors waiving the death penalty before a wanted person was sent south.
Canadian authorities say the careful judicial process prevents mistakes.
"The extradition process may take some time, but it works," said a Justice Ministry spokesman, Patrick Charette. "It's a safeguard."