Amnesty International was represented in this case by John Norris and Brydie Bethell.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
This case concerns the extradition from Canada to Thailand of Michael Karas who was suspected by Thai authorities of committing a murder in Thailand. Murder is an offence that carries a possible death sentence in Thailand. Despite the danger that Mr. Karas could face the death penalty if returned to Thailand, the Minster of Justice ordered that he be surrendered to Thailand to be prosecuted. The Minister did not seek assurances from Thailand that if Mr. Karas were convicted of murder in Thailand, the death penalty would not be imposed. Instead, the Minister accepted Thailand’s explanation that it could not legally provide assurances, and evidence provided that given similar cases in the past, it was unlikely (thought still possible) that the death penalty would be sought.
Mr. Karas sought to judicially review the decision to extradite him, which was ultimately upheld by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Mr. Karas appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court of Canada.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
Amnesty International sought leave to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mr. Karas’ case. If granted leave to intervene, we proposed to argue that consistent with Canada’s obligations under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), Canada is constitutionally required to seek assurances in all but exceptional cases that the death penalty will not be imposed. An assurance must include not only that the death penalty will not be imposed, but also that it will not be sought. The rights to life and to be free from cruel treatment under the Charter encompass protection against the death penalty itself, and not only against the carrying out of that sentence. Developments in Canadian courts have affirmed Canada’s rejection of the death penalty.
Declining to request anything short of effective assurances that the death penalty will neither be sought nor imposed is consistent with Canada’s abolitionist position on the death penalty. “Informal” assurances cannot suffice to protect a person’s Charter rights. The legal “inability” of a state to provide assurances cannot constitute an “exceptional circumstance” to the general rule that assurances must be obtained from the requesting state where the person sought could face the death penalty.
Amnesty International was granted leave to intervene in this case but, for reasons described below, did not submit a final factum as the case was dismissed before the Supreme Court could render a final judgment.
STATUS OF THE CASE
Before the case could be heard and decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Canadian government received a diplomatic note from Thailand providing assurances that if convicted of murder, Thailand would not impose the death penalty; rather, it would commute the sentence to life imprisonment.
As a result of this assurance, the Supreme Court of Canada quashed the appeal. Mr. Karas was extradited to Thailand, tried, and convicted of the murder. He has been serving his sentence in Thailand. His request to be transferred to serve his sentence in a Canadian prison was recently approved by the federal government.
British Columbia Court of Appeal judgment in Mr. Karas’ case
Amnesty International’s application to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mr. Karas’ case