That this House condemn as unacceptable the extradition of Leonard Peltier to the United States from Canada on the basis of false information filed with a Canadian court by American authorities, and that this House call on the government to seek the return of Mr. Peltier to Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed at the power we have over time in this place.
In rising today to speak to Motion No. 232, a motion in my name asking that the House condemn as unacceptable the extradition of Leonard Peltier to the United States from Canada, I am standing in a long tradition of other MPs who have raised this issue in the House in the past.
I recall one member in particular whom I would like to mention, the former hon. member for Skeena, Jim Fulton, who concerned himself with this issue at one time. I remember the entire NDP caucus being supportive of the efforts that Mr. Fulton was making at that time with respect to this same issue.
Unfortunately, there has been no positive development in this case that would lead to the freeing of Mr. Peltier or his return to Canada as the motion calls for. I would like to review briefly the history of this issue.
Leonard Peltier is in prison and has been in prison for 26 years. Mr. Peltier was first extradited from Canada in 1976. He had fled to Canada after being implicated in the shooting of two FBI agents in a standoff on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
Pine Ridge has a long history as a symbol of protest against the treatment of native Americans by the United States government. It was at Pine Ridge that the Wounded Knee massacre took place in which 300 Sioux were massacred by U.S. army troops in 1890. It was at Pine Ridge in 1973 that the American Indian movement led a protest and standoff against the United States government to air their grievances.
Mr. Peltier was an activist with the American Indian movement and was invited to Pine Ridge in the aftermath of Wounded Knee in order to bear witness and work with the community in healing itself and standing up for the rights to which it was entitled. It was in doing this that Mr. Peltier was implicated in the shooting of two FBI agents.
The full weight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought to bear in order to ensure that someone would be convicted of the murder of the two FBI agents. This case has been studied over the years and it appears that the FBI withheld and ignored important evidence that would have cleared Mr. Peltier and that it fabricated evidence in order to convict him. One could argue that Leonard Peltier has become a political prisoner and hostage to the ongoing unwillingness of the American government and the FBI to admit that they mishandled the situation at Wounded Knee at that particular time.
Mr. Peltier took refuge in Canada, I presume because he felt he would not get a fair trial if he stayed in the United States. It turns out that he was right. The FBI that fabricated or manufactured the evidence that persuaded the Canadian government to extradite him was the same FBI that was responsible for the evidence in his prosecution.
When Mr. Peltier was extradited from Canada, much of the evidence as I said, including the most damning evidence of all, turned out to be manufactured. It is this evidence that he was extradited on, particularly the claim that Mr. Peltier's alleged girlfriend witnessed the acts in question. This was good enough for the court at the time and he was extradited to the United States where he was convicted.
Over the past 26 years, evidence has regularly come up casting doubts on Mr. Peltier's guilt. The witness who claimed that she was Mr. Peltier's girlfriend later recanted her testimony and admitted that she did not even know him. Other witnesses who had testified against him during his trial recanted their evidence and claimed that they had been coerced by the FBI. Physical evidence such as ballistics reports have been found to be incorrect.
What we have here is a case in which the evidence used to convict Mr. Peltier becomes more suspect as time goes on. It seems to me it is way past the point where something should be done about this. They are not identical cases, but we certainly have seen more and more cases in Canada and elsewhere in the world where people who have served lengthy prison terms have been set free because evidence has been reviewed and has been found to be faulty. It seems that Mr. Peltier, certainly in my judgment and in the judgment of a great many other people, falls into the category of a person who deserves this kind of consideration.
Why are we talking about this in the Canadian Parliament? As I said, the Canadian government is complicit in Mr. Peltier's continued detention because it was the Canadian government that extradited Mr. Peltier and it was the Canadian government that threw its continuing silence on this issue. It has abdicated all responsibility for his continued incarceration.
As I said, the evidence presented in the Canadian court by the United States government was long ago shown to be inadequate, yet the Canadian government has raised no voice in protest. The Canadian government has chosen not to advocate for Mr. Peltier even though the Canadian government is in a unique position to do so because it is as a result of Canadian action that he was available for prosecution in the first place.
Two years ago the Canadian Leonard Peltier Defence Committee and the Osgoode Hall law school conducted an inquiry into the case. It was chaired by Justice Fred Kaufman, a Canadian jurist who has extensive experience in conducting inquiries into wrongful convictions. This inquiry found without a doubt that the evidence used to extradite Mr. Peltier was falsified and insufficient.
The key extradition witness, Myrtle Poor Bear, testified that the FBI coerced her into signing false affidavits stating she witnessed Leonard Peltier murder two FBI agents. Classified FBI communiqués and other briefs were presented that supported her highly persuasive statements. It has become clear that there is no sufficient reliable evidence to support Leonard Peltier's extradition and subsequent conviction for murder. This fraudulent extradition marked the beginning of what one could argue is the FBI's deliberate obstruction of justice.
Referring to Poor Bear's recanted testimony, Justice Kaufman concluded:
I am satisfied that if this had been known when the extradition hearing took place, the request to extradite Peltier would likely have been refused.
It is not as if the government has not had the grounds on which to act. It is not as if it has not had some chance to clear up this situation.
In 1999 the justice department finished its own inquiry into this issue and somehow found that there was other circumstantial evidence that was used to extradite Mr. Peltier, though it is unclear what that circumstantial evidence was. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice is here. Perhaps he could enlighten us on what the government was talking about.
Be that as it may, in the light of the Kaufman inquiry conducted one year after the justice department review was finished, the Prime Minister, in a response to a letter from Justice Kaufman, agreed to refer the recommendations of the inquiry to the justice minister. Nothing has come of this and there is no indication that the minister will take any action.
I was talking to a journalist earlier today after a press conference that I and the House leader of the official opposition had this morning. I was told by the journalist that the Minister of Justice had been approached on this issue and the journalist had been told that the Minister of Justice had no intention of reviewing the case. I hope that the parliamentary secretary is here to tell us that is not true, but we shall wait and see.
If the government does not want to agree with the motion, the motion is not votable anyway, but why not take some action that would redeem, if not necessarily the situation that Mr. Peltier finds himself in, at least the reputation of Canada as a place where people can receive justice and not be returned to an authority that has manufactured evidence in order to secure an extradition?
I also hope that the case of Mr. Peltier might be an opportunity for some reflection and instruction on our part. We live in a time post-September 11 where there may be other people who are the object of the attention of the FBI or of the American authorities. While I want the appropriate authorities to have the ability to find the real terrorists, it worries me when I look back on a situation like this one and I see that the FBI has had a tendency not only to manufacture evidence when it wants to produce a captive or it wants to produce someone it has caught but it also never recants and it stands by its mistake forever.
It has been standing by this mistake for 26 years now and Mr. Peltier has been in prison for that length of time.
We should, at the very least, receive some motivation for skepticism. I would say to the government, if there are Canadians who are implicated in certain things in the next little while, please be skeptical and practise due diligence when it comes to the evidence that is being forwarded by the FBI. Let us stand instructed by our experience of what happened to Leonard Peltier when there is a political dimension to what is otherwise regarded as a criminal event. That political dimension can often create a dynamic that does not exactly result in justice being served.
I hope this debate, even though it is not votable depending on what members say, might become one more contribution to the ongoing struggle to have justice done in the case of Leonard Peltier. I hope that he might take some comfort from the fact that the House of Commons is debating his situation and his future. One thing I have noticed over the years, in advocating for political prisoners, is that when I have met them later, when they have been freed for a variety of reasons, they have had occasion to tell me and others who advocated on their behalf how much it meant to them to know that somebody cared, that somebody had not forgotten about the fact that they were languishing in some prison somewhere.
I hope the defence committee might be able to convey at least those supportive remarks that are made in this chamber today, or perhaps even the remarks of the parliamentary secretary, so that others might know better the position of the Canadian government in this respect.
In any event, we have waited long enough. I hope that in the future no other member of Parliament has to bring such a motion before the House again or some similar motion having to do with this because I hope that at some point something will be done. Without prejudice as to what exactly happened in Pine Ridge in 1976, the fact of the matter is that there is also an argument for mercy or clemency, given the length of the sentence. Many people have served much shorter sentences.
I regret that President Clinton did not have the moral fortitude to pardon Leonard Peltier, as many had hoped he might in the dying days of his presidency. Instead he chose to pardon a whole bunch of other people, friends and what not, many of whom we might want to argue about their worthiness for such pardons.
In my judgment this would have been a real opportunity for the president, not just to have done something for Leonard Peltier but to have done something that would heal the relationship between aboriginal people in the United States of America and their government because this is part of an ongoing saga between aboriginal people in North America generally and their governments.
We are no strangers in this country to confrontational events that happen between the Canadian government, the Canadian army, as they were at Oka, and the aboriginal leadership. For the Canadian government to acknowledge its fault or its complicity in creating the situation in which Mr. Peltier finds himself, would be a step not just in the right direction for Mr. Peltier, but would also be a welcome symbolic sign on the part of the Canadian government that it understands the need for a different kind of relationship with aboriginal people in this country.