British Columbia

Surrey MP defends letter of support for convicted drug trafficker

A Liberal MP from Surrey, B.C., is defending his decision to write a letter of support — using House of Commons letterhead — for a Vancouver man convicted of drug trafficking in California.
Surrey MP Sukh Dhaliwal says the letter he wrote on behalf of Ranjit Singh Cheema wasn't meant to influence the judge's decision on sentencing. ((Sukh Dhaliwal))

A Liberal MP from Surrey, B.C., is defending his decision to write a letter of support — using House of Commons letterhead — for a Vancouver man convicted of drug trafficking in California.

Newton-North Delta MP Sukh Dhaliwal said Tuesday the letter to a U.S. District Court judge aimed to show his belief that Ranjit Singh Cheema is committed to rehabilitation.

Cheema was extradited to California in June 2007 to face drug trafficking charges stemming from his alleged involvement in an international heroin ring 10 years ago. He pleaded guilty to smuggling heroin and was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.

Dhaliwal, who wrote the letter in July, told CBC News the letter wasn't meant to influence the judge's decision on sentencing.

Teresa Townsley, the federal NDP candidate in the Newton-North Delta riding, says Surrey MP Sukh Dhaliwal needs to give his constitutents an explanation. ((Teresa Townsley))

"Mr. Cheema and his father approached me, saying that they wanted to turn his life around," Dhaliwal said in a telephone interview.

"This letter is not about sentencing. This letter is not about crime. This is about rehabilitation," he said. "The bottom line is that this man is coming back into our community. I wrote a letter of support for rehabilitating this man."

Teresa Townsley, the federal NDP candidate in the Newton-North Delta riding, said voters deserve answers from Dhaliwal.

"Mr. Dhaliwal needs to answer his community's questions and to reassure the community because the people at the doorstep are basically saying that they're questioning his judgment in this and they are asking for accountability," she said.

"They want to know why he made the decision to support this individual and they like to hear it from him," she said.

Brad Zubyk, a spokesman for the federal Liberal campaign in B.C., said Tuesday that the party stands behind Dhaliwal.

"The question is, 'Do you have a better chance getting rehabilitation in the U.S. system or the Canadian system?'" Zubyk said.

"The campaign does not have any concerns with Sukh's position. It's simply about rehabilitation. Quite frankly, it's more of the Tory conservative attack machine trying to make an issue when the facts are clear," he said.