Fugitive has Winnipeg court date

A man on the run from Manitoba justice for more than 30 years has a court date Monday on drug-related charges.
Jack MacDonald in 1980 and at the time of his arrest in 2011. (U.S. Marshals Service)

A man on the run from Manitoba justice for more than 30 years has a court date Monday on drug-related charges.

A bail hearing is scheduled for Ian Jackson MacDonald, 72, who lived under a false identity for more than three decades until U.S. marshals found him in Florida in January.

MacDonald made a brief appearance in a Winnipeg court Friday afternoon and was remanded into custody for Monday's hearing.

A U.S. judge recently waived escape charges against McDonald, which paved the way for his extradition to Canada to face charges of conspiracy to import marijuana.

RCMP said MacDonald was returned to the country Thursday.

In 1980, MacDonald — known as "Big Mac" — was arrested in Florida on a warrant issued by Manitoba police, who suspected he had helped smuggle a large amount of marijuana into the province.

While in custody in June of that year, he faked a heart attack and was taken to hospital and escaped by conning a guard into removing his leg shackles, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

He was arrested in January this year after an investigator was assigned to track MacDonald and found him living in a central Florida home.

"You got me," MacDonald was quoted as saying by a spokesman for the Marshals Service.

MacDonald's return to the Canadian justice system was eagerly anticipated by a former Manitoba politician who was one of several people convicted of conspiracy charges in the historic case.

"What could I tell ya? It's been 31 years but it seems like yesterday," Bob Wilson, a one-time Conservative member of the Manitoba legislature, said Friday. Wilson has maintained his innocence and expressed hope that information from MacDonald will exonerate him. "I'm so absolutely relieved because when he escaped, all the misinformation took place. So it's a tremendous happy day."

Wilson said he tried, but was prevented, from connecting with MacDonald as the former fugitive was led into court.

"I grabbed his hand and the guards pounced on me," Wilson said. "So I never had a chance to say anything. He doesn't look like Jack McDonald of the old times but he looks OK."

According to the U.S. Marshals, MacDonald earned $1,900 a month tending a team of horses sponsored by the Heinz Corp. during his time on the run. Before it was disbanded in 2006, "The Heinz Hitch" was a prominent horse-and-buggy display at festivals and state fairs across the U.S.

MacDonald crossed the border at least three times to bring the horses to the Calgary Stampede over the years.

Wilson said he had believed Jackson was either dead or living in Central America.


With files from The Canadian Press