VANCOUVER - A British Columbia provincial court judge has stayed charges against an accused drug kingpin because Canadian officials made no move to have him extradited in the nine years he was in India.
An arrest warrant was issued for Arpinder Singh Gill on July 23, 2004, for conspiracy to import cocaine between B.C., Ontario, Quebec and the United States.
Gill left Vancouver for India in September 2003.
Court heard that Canadian police knew where he lived in that country but made no request to have him arrested and extradited to face trial.
Gill told the court that he faced no charges when he left Canada, and lived openly in India. Twice he renewed his Canadian passport and police knew of his whereabouts.
It wasn't until he returned to Canada on Aug. 1, 2013, to attend his son's engagement celebration in Ontario, that Gill was arrested.
He petitioned the court for a stay of proceedings, arguing that the delay was a violation of his charter rights and prejudiced his ability to defend himself.
Judge Gregory Rideout agreed.
"The Crown was fully able to request the extradition of Gill from India. For reasons which remain unexplained, the Crown failed to take any appropriate steps to request the extradition of Gill," he wrote in the judgment.
The Crown cited "prosecutorial and ministerial protection" for offering no explanation, but Rideout noted that there appeared to be no investigative strategy, no third-party safety interests, no national security interests or international protocols at stake.
"This lack of any explanation ultimately results in this court being unable to determine if the Crown exercised any improper motive or bad faith."
Gill was charged as a result of a five-month investigation by the Organized Crime Agency of B.C., targeting a cross-border cocaine and marijuana network.
According to court documents, Gill was accused of being the kingpin of the operation that stretched from Vancouver east to Quebec, and south into the U.S. as far as California.
The Crown told Rideout that Gill would face a potential sentence of between 14 and 20 years in prison.
Gill, who was 37 when the indictment was filed and is now 47, testified in court that he could not remember details of the events in 2003.
"I am unable to recall the contact information of many relevant witnesses with whom I would have been interacting in 2003. I am also unable to locate these witnesses due to the fact that I have had no contact with them since I left Canada," he said.
"In addition to this, all business records, invoices, and other documents that I would have tendered in support of my defence have been lost or destroyed, given the number of years that have elapsed."
The U.S. once sought Gill's extradition to face charges in that country but Rideout heard that American law enforcement no longer wanted Canada turn him over.
The allegations against Gill are "extremely serious," Rideout wrote, but the delay was "extraordinary."
It amounted to a violation of his charter rights, the judge found and issued a stay of proceedings.
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