TORONTO - The Federal Appeal Court has upheld an order to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to accept the transfer to Canada of a prisoner serving his sentence in a U.S. jail for drug possession.
The decision says Toews should immediately approve the transfer request of Yves LeBon, a Quebec man in a Georgia prison for cocaine possession.
"I'm hoping this is the end of this long saga," LeBon's Ottawa-based lawyer, Yavar Hameed, said Tuesday in an interview.
"Given it's gone up and down and around the bend for four years, it's appropriate in this case to exercise this extraordinary remedy."
In March 2009, U.S. authorities approved his request for a move to a Canadian facility, but Toews turned his application down.
But in a ruling released Monday in Toronto, the Federal Appeal Court said a Federal Court judge was correct to conclude that Toews had a closed mind in rejecting LeBon's request.
The appeal court judges have unanimously ordered Toews to transfer LeBon back to Canada in March or at the earliest time possible afterwards.
LeBon entered New York state by car in August 2007 and was stopped in Illinois a few days later by a state trooper who discovered 119 kilograms of cocaine inside the vehicle.
He was sentenced on Aug. 18, 2008, to 10 years in prison and five additional years of supervised release after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute the drug and improper entry into the U.S.
He applied for his transfer in the fall of 2008 and that was approved by U.S. authorities on March 6, 2009.
Toews refused the transfer and told the courts that LeBon was likely to commit an organized crime offence.
The appeal court judges said the main issue in the latest appeal was whether the Federal Court had the right to order the minister to make the transfer.
The judges said the order was "unusual," but added it was justified to prevent further harm to LeBon if the minister were given a third chance to decide the matter.
Hameed said there is a bus coming from the U.S. carrying prisoners in the middle of March, and he expects that LeBon will be transferred to Quebec at that time.
In the Federal Court decision, Judge Luc Martineau said Toews had shown a bias and ignored evidence supporting LeBon's transfer, such as updated assessments by the Correctional Service of Canada, the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Martineau said the continued refusal of the transfer request was having a serious impact on LeBon, alienating him from his family and preventing rehabilitation in a Canadian prison.
Toews acknowledged points in LeBon's favour _ that it was his first offence, along with his strong social ties, his good behaviour in prison and the fact his sentence was reduced for admitting responsibility.
But the minister said there was a risk that LeBon would commit an organized crime offence, inferring from the distance he drove and the quantity of drugs that at least two other people were involved in an apparent illicit transaction.
Toews did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.
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