Bill Blair weighs decision on Canadian child porn prisoner seeking transfer home from U.S.
Former minster Ralph Goodale blocked Robert Scheiring's return, citing threat to public safety
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair must decide this week whether to allow a Canadian man serving a sentence for child pornography in the U.S. to transfer back to Canada — a move that would see him released immediately from custody and shave two years off his time behind bars.
If Blair grants the transfer, he'll override a decision made by his predecessor, Ralph Goodale.
In a May 28 ruling, the Federal Court gave the federal government 90 days to reconsider Goodale's decision to block Robert Scheiring's return to Canada on the grounds that he poses a threat to public safety and that he had abandoned his ties to Canada.
That three-month period runs out this week. Blair's office told CBC News on Monday that a decision had not yet been made.
Scheiring, whose hometown is Winnipeg, moved to the U.S. in 2000 with his wife and three daughters for an employment opportunity. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography after police discovered 640,000 images and 2,500 videos of children in sexually explicit poses.
At the time, Scheiring was working as an insurance company executive in North Dakota.
Scheiring was sentenced to 14 years behind bars; he's scheduled to be released in the U.S. in August, 2022, after his prison term was reduced to reflect pre-conviction custody and good behaviour.
The maximum sentence for the equivalent crime in Canada is 10 years. Canada does not enforce foreign sentences that exceed the maximum domestic sentence — which means that if Scheiring is transferred to Canada, he'll be released into the community immediately with no supervision.
He would, however, have a criminal record and be required to register as a sex offender.
If Scheiring serves out the rest of his sentence in the U.S., however, he probably would be deported to Canada upon his release. He would not have a formal record of his foreign convictions but still would be required to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, according to the Federal Court ruling.
Ottawa-based lawyer Nicholas Pope, who represents Scheiring, noted that his client is a first-time offender who has done "everything possible to make amends." Based on psychological reports, disciplinary records and participation in various programs, he said, Scheiring does not pose a risk to reoffend.
Decision must be evidence-based: lawyer
"If the government is going to make a decision, there needs to be some evidence and reason to it. It can't just be a political decision or a decision made because the person they're dealing with might not be the most popular in the public's eye," Pope told CBC News.
"The minister has a lot of discretion, but they can't just deny a transfer because there might be a news story about it and it would look bad."
Pope said Scheiring is now scheduled to be released in the U.S. in August, 2022. He said his client wants to return to Canada, where he has a family support network.
Scheiring made three unsuccessful requests to the U.S. before receiving approval for a transfer under the International Transfer of Offenders Act in October, 2017.
The request subsequently was rejected by Canada.
According to the court record, Goodale acknowledged that Scheiring had cooperated with police, accepted responsibility for his crimes and demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation programs. The minister also accepted a psychologist's conclusion that there is no significant risk of Scheiring acting in a "hands-on sexually abusive manner towards pre-pubescent females."
'More difficult' to monitor Scheiring after deportation
But Goodale concluded that the factors in favour of a transfer were outweighed by the safety risk he believed Scheiring posed to children.
Federal Court Judge Simon Fothergill noted in his ruling that the goal of protecting public safety might be undermined by blocking Scheiring's transfer.
"As a Canadian citizen, Mr. Scheiring has a constitutional right to return to Canada at the end of his U.S. sentence. The Minister's reasons acknowledge that it will be more difficult for Canadian law enforcement agencies to monitor and regulate Mr. Scheiring's behaviour if he is deported to Canada, rather than transferred under the ITOA," Fothergill wrote in his judgment.
Fothergill ordered the federal government to "reassess" its decision, stating that the minister "did not fully consider or reasonably balance the competing factors in assessing the risks related to a transfer." He also awarded Scheiring $3,500 in costs.
"However, given the gravity of Mr. Scheiring's offence, and legitimate questions regarding the extent of his rehabilitation, it cannot be said that all factors point to approving the transfer request," Fothergill wrote.
Citing privacy reasons, Blair's office would not comment specifically on the case but said every application for transfer is "carefully considered and decisions are made in accordance with the terms of the (International Transfer of Offenders) Act."
Conservative MP and public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus said the government should stick with its initial decision and block the transfer.
"At the end of the day, we don't support any free pass for that kind of criminal," he told CBC. "Some people might say he's almost done his time, but we must always think of the children, especially the victims, and there are thousands and thousands of pictures and videos of young children."