Questions linger about John Graham handover

Family and supporters of John Graham are still furious over unanswered questions relating to his high-speed extradition to the U.S. last December.

“Why would they put this man in chains and take him across the border, full speed, without him being allowed to talk to lawyer or family?” Vancouver-based justice advocate Jennifer Wade asked in a phone conversation with the Straight.

The Yukon-born Southern Tutchone man is charged with first-degree murder in the execution-style killing of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq and American Indian Movement member Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, whose body was found in 1976 on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Graham has always maintained that he did not commit the crime.

On February 21, 2005, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett ruled that Graham could be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for the crime. On June 22, 2006, months after the Conservative party gained a minority in Parliament, then–justice minister Vic Toews signed off on the handover of Graham to U.S. authorities.

On June 26, 2007, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed Graham’s appeal. On December 6, 2007, the same day he was whisked to the border, Graham was denied leave to appeal his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. According to Wade, Graham was driven from the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam and turned over to U.S. authorities. He is currently being held in the Pennington County Jail in South Dakota.

Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Bill Siksay wrote two letters to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, dated December 6 and 11, 2007, demanding answers to questions surrounding the surrender.

“Given that he was extradited the same day as the Supreme Court decision was delivered, it is clear that both Canadian and U.S. authorities had already made the necessary arrangements to remove him,” Siksay wrote on December 11. “Why then was Mr. Graham’s legal counsel or his family not informed about the timing of the extradition?”

In a two-page letter to Siksay dated December 18, 2007, Janet Henchey, general counsel and associate director of the International Assistance Group in the federal Department of Justice, stated that it was “standard practice to remove persons sought for extradition pursuant to a valid surrender order as soon as practicable upon the release of the final decision on any outstanding appeals”.

According to Wade, Graham was denied basic rights. “They [prisoners] are allowed to talk to family or lawyer before going,” she said. “He was not allowed access to family or lawyer or friends of any kind. He asked repeatedly if he could phone his family to tell them he was leaving, and they said no.”

Wade has been advocating on Graham’s behalf since he was arrested in Vancouver in December 2003.