Quebec mother who was to be extradited to U.S. on custody charge dies in Laval jail

A Quebec woman facing extradition to the United States to face charges in relation to a child custody order was found dead at the Leclerc jail in Laval earlier this week. 

Lawyer says jail knew mother attempted suicide days before her arrest

M. M. was in detention at the Leclerc jail in Laval when she died in her cell earlier this week, after an eight-year legal fight against a U.S. extradition order. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec woman who was about to be extradited to the United States to face charges in relation to a child custody order was found dead at the Leclerc jail in Laval earlier this week. 

Her lawyer said she died by suicide.

The woman, known in court documents as "M.M.," was arrested last week after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to reconsider its decision she be sent to the U.S. to face the charges there, for bringing her three children to Canada. 

M.M., a Canadian citizen from Quebec, said she fled to Canada with her children to protect them from their violent father. She did not have custody of her children at the time. 

M.M.'s children told Quebec child protection officials they ran away from their father on their own, claiming he was physically and emotionally abusive. 

The children say they fled to an abandoned house in the state of Georgia for several days before contacting their mother, who brought them to Canada with the help of an older sibling. 

The children were sent to live with their grandmother in Canada by Quebec child protection services.

Marie-Hélène Giroux, who was M.M.'s lawyer since the U.S. made the extradition request in 2011, said her client's death was self-inflicted.

Giroux said M.M. had attempted suicide last month after she received the news that she would be arrested and sent to the U.S.

"I cannot understand … because to commit suicide in an institution, especially when you come in and it's obvious you've tried — I don't know what went wrong," Giroux said in an interview.

Marie-Hélène Giroux, M. M.'s lawyer, says is devastated by her client's death and expects there to be an investigation into what went wrong at the jail. (CBC)

M.M. would have had to undergo a trial in the United States on the charges, but Giroux says what her client feared the most "was not actually the trial, it was to see her ex-husband."

Giroux said she was devastated by her client's death. 

"This entire story for me was a very sad story from the first day that I met Ms. M.," she said. 

"It's a story of abuse, and family and conjugal abuse … She was a lady who really wanted to save her children."

Giroux said she expects an investigation into M.M.'s death.

Extended legal battle

Over the course of her eight-year legal battle, M.M.'s case went the furthest it could go in Canada's appeal process. A Quebec Superior Court justice had at first dismissed the extradition order, but that decision was later overturned on appeal. 

M.M. and Giroux appealed that decision, bringing the case to the Supreme Court in 2015, which ruled the extradition was lawful in a 4-3 decision. 

It is unusual for cases that have been heard in the Supreme Court of Canada to undergo a further appeal, but Giroux pushed for one and former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould agreed to review the case.

When Wilson-Raybould also upheld the extradition, Giroux filed another request for review to the Supreme Court. She said it informed her Oct. 17 of its decision to stand by the extradition. She says RCMP officers arrested M.M. shortly after.

"It's difficult to beat an extradition to a country like [the U.S.] because they have a legal system and Canada has diplomatic agreements with the United States," Giroux said.

'Deplorable conditions'

The Fédération des femmes du Québec, a women's rights organization, denounced what it called "inhumane treatment" at the Leclerc jail, the provincial detention centre for women, where M.M. was in custody when she died. 

The FFQ wants Quebec politicians to raise M.M.'s case at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

In a statement, the organization said her death was the third suicide at the facility in two years and that lawyers and human rights groups regularly described "deplorable conditions" inside the jail.

As a result, the FFQ added, M.M. was a victim of "double the violence: domestic violence and institutional violence."

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With files from Nancy Wood and Ainslie MacLellan