Supreme Court rules to extradite Quebec woman accused of kidnapping own children

In a tight 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a Quebec woman can be extradited to the U.S. to face charges in Georgia of interstate interference with a custody order.

Julius Grey, lawyer for 'M', asking federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene

The Supreme Court is pictured here on March 19, 2015. In a split decision, the court ruled the former Justice Minister's decision to allow a Quebec woman to be extradited 'was not unreasonable.' (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled a Quebec woman can be extradited to the U.S. state of Georgia to face charges of interstate interference with a custody order.

The woman, a Canadian citizen known as "M" in court documents, has been fighting extradition since 2010. She's accused of kidnapping her three children while they were in the sole custody of their father and bringing them to Canada. 

However, the children, who were 14, 10 and 9 at the time, told Quebec child protection officials that they ran away on their own, because their father beat them and left them unattended for long periods of time.

The children also said they spent several days sleeping on the floor of an abandoned garage, before an older sister drove them to meet their mother, who was living in a Quebec shelter for abused women. 

A Quebec Superior Court justice dismissed the extradition order, but that decision was later overturned on appeal, paving the way for "M" to be sent back to Georgia.

Complicating matters further, a Quebec judge granted "M" full custody of her children — a decision that has not since been challenged by their father.

Split decision

The Supreme Court case centred on whether Canada's justice minister made a reasonable decision in allowing the extradition to go forward. 

"There were two issues: whether it's in the best interests [of the children] to remain with their mother at this point, and secondly, whether the so-called crime, which has never been admitted by her, would have, at worst, been an exercise of protecting the children," said Julius Grey, the woman's lawyer.

The three dissenting justices argued the minister's decision was unreasonable, because the woman's actions would not be considered a crime under Canadian law.

"No one can be extradited unless his or her conduct would have constituted an offence that is punishable in Canada," the dissenting opinion reads. 

"...The Criminal Code  states that no one will be found guilty of an offence...if the taking or harbouring of any young person was necessary to protect him or her from danger of imminent harm."

The state of Georgia doesn't consider protecting children from imminent harm an acceptable defence.

However, four justices found that "M" had not proved that the law in Georgia was substantively different from Canadian law.

"It does not follow that every difference in the availability of defences or in jeopardy makes extradition unjust or oppressive or contrary to the principles of fundamental justice," the decision reads. 

Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is being asked by lawyer Julius Grey to stop the extradition of his client, 'M'. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Grey is petitioning the new justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to exercise her discretionary power to dismiss the extradition. 

"There is a very serious difference between the attitude towards these types of questions, under [the previous government] and now," said Grey.

"The minister is entitled to her discretion. There would be nothing legally startling about her reconsidering."

Children still in mother's custody

"M" remains in custody, pending her extradition. Two of her children are still minors and living at their mother's home in the Eastern Townships, along with their grandmother. 

"I do understand that there's no question of them being sent back to their father," said Grey. "That was in the record."