USA v. Burns (2001), 148 B.C.A.C. 1 (SCC);

    243 W.A.C. 1

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Temp. Cite: [2001] B.C.A.C. TBEd. FE.017

Minister of Justice (appellant) v. Glen Sebastian Burns and Atif Ahmad Rafay (respondents) and Amnesty International, The International Centre for Criminal Law & Human Rights, The Criminal Lawyers Association, The Washington Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers and The Senate of the Republic of Italy (intervenors)

(26129; 2001 SCC 7)

Indexed As: United States of America v. Burns and Rafay

Supreme Court of Canada

McLachlin, C.J.C., L’Heureux-Dubé, Gonthier, Iacobucci, Major, Bastarache, Binnie, Arbour and LeBel, JJ.

February 15, 2001.


The Minister of Justice chose to surrender two 18 year old Canadian citizens to Washington State for trial on three charges of “aggravated first degree murder” without obtaining assurances that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. The citizens sought judicial review.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal, Hollinrake, J.A., dissenting, in a judgment reported (1997), 94 B.C.A.C. 59; 152 W.A.C. 59, allowed the application and directed that the Minister seek the assurances described in art. 6 of the Canada-U.S. Ex­tradition Treaty as a condition of surrender. Unconditional surrender violated the citizens’ mobility rights under s. 6(1) of the Charter. Further, the Minister breached his adminis­trative law duty to exercise his discretion properly when he refused to seek assurances on the basis that assurances would be sought only in “special” cases. The Minister ap­pealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal, agreeing with the Court of Ap­peal’s result, but for different reasons. Un­condi­tional surrenders violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a man­ner contrary to the principles of funda­mental justice (Charter, s. 7). The infringe­ment was not justified under s. 1 of the Charter. The Minister was constitutionally required to seek and obtain assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed as a condition of extradition.

Civil Rights – Topic 525

Mobility rights – Right to remain in Canada – Extradition – The Supreme Court of Canada held that every extradi­tion was a prima facie infringement of a Canadian citizen’s s. 6(1) Charter right to “remain in” Canada – Accordingly, forc­ible removal must be justified as a reason­able limit prescribed by law under s. 1 – Two Cana­dian citizens opposing extradi­tion to the United States to face murder charges and the death penalty submitted that a surren­der without assurances that the death pen­alty would not be sought was not a reason­able limit prescribed by law under s. 1 because their rights were not impaired “as minimally as possible” where such assur­ances were not sought – The Supreme Court of Canada held that “the real issue here is the death penalty. The death pen­alty is overwhelmingly a justice issue and only marginally a mobility rights issue. The death penalty issue should be con­fronted directly and it should be con­fronted under s. 7 of the Charter” – See paragraphs 39 to 48.

Civil Rights – Topic 3129

Trials – Due process, fundamental justice and fair hearings – Criminal and quasi- criminal proceedings – Extradition pro­ceedings – The United States sought the extradition of two 18 year old Canadian citizens to face multiple murder charges in Washington State – The Minister chose to unconditionally surrender the citizens without obtaining assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that “in the absence of exceptional circumstances, which we refrain from trying to anticipate [and did not exist in this case], assurances in death penalty cases are always constitu­tionally required.” – The court considered: (1) international initiatives opposing extra­dition without assurances and to abolish the death penalty; (2) state practice in­creasingly favouring abolition of the death penalty; (3) recognition in most jurisdic­tions of personal characteristics of the fugitive as mitigating factors in death penalty cases; (4) the growing awareness of the rate of wrongful convictions in murder cases and the irreversibility of such miscarriages of justice if the death penalty were imposed; and (5) the “death row phenomenon” – Considering all of these factors, the court held that extradition without obtaining assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed violated the principles of fundamental justice contrary to s. 7 of the Charter and was not a rea­sonable limit prescribed by law under s. 1 – See paragraphs 58 to 144.

Civil Rights – Topic 3840.2

Cruel and unusual treatment or punishment – What constitutes – Extradition – At issue was whether extradition of a Cana­dian citizen to face murder charges without obtaining assur­ances that the death penalty would not be imposed constituted “cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” under s. 12 of the Charter – A threshold issue was whether s. 12 even applied where the foreign state (not Canada) sought to impose and carry out the death sentence, particularly where the Charter guaranteed certain rights and freedoms by “the Parlia­ment and government of Canada” – The Supreme Court of Canada declined to resolve the issue, stating that “the degree of causal remoteness between the extradi­tion order to face trial and the potential imposition of capital punishment as one of many possible outcomes to this prosecu­tion make this a case more appro­priately reviewed under s. 7 than under s. 12.” – See paragraphs 50 to 57.

Civil Rights – Topic 8344

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Application – Exceptions – Principles of fundamental justice (Charter, s. 7) – [See
Civil Rights – Topic 3129

Civil Rights – Topic 8348

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Application – Exceptions – Reasonable limits prescribed by law (Charter, s. 1) – [See
Civil Rights – Topic 3129

Extradition – Topic 3343

Surrender to demanding country – Condi­tions precedent – Assurance that death penalty will not be imposed – [See
Civil Rights – Topic 3129

Extradition – Topic 3947

Practice – Judicial review – Decision to surrender – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that “it is generally for the Minister, not the court, to assess the weight of com­peting considerations in extradition policy, but the availability of the death penalty, like death itself, opens up a different di­mension. The difficulties and occasional miscarriages of the criminal law are located in the area of human experience that falls squarely within ‘the inherent domain of the judiciary as guardian of the justice system’ … It is from this perspec­tive, recognizing the unique finality and irreversibility of the death penalty, that the constitutionality of the Minister’s decision falls to be decided.” – See paragraph 38.

Cases Noticed:

Argentina (Republic) v. Mellino, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 536; 76 N.R. 51; 80 A.R. 1, refd to. [para. 14].

United States of America v. Cotroni; United States of America v. El Zein, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1469; 96 N.R. 321; 23 Q.A.C. 182, refd to. [para. 16].

Kindler v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 779; 129 N.R. 81; 67 C.C.C.(3d) 1, refd to. [para. 17].

Reference Re Ng Extradition, [1991] 2 S.C.R. 858; 129 N.R. 177; 119 A.R. 300, refd to. [para. 17].

Schmidt v. Canada et al., [1987] 1 S.C.R. 500; 76 N.R. 12; 20 O.A.C. 161, refd to. [para. 17].

Idziak v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [1992] 3 S.C.R. 631; 144 N.R. 327; 59 O.A.C. 241, refd to. [para. 32].

Operation Dismantle Inc. et al. v. Canada et al., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 441; 59 N.R. 1, refd to. [para. 32].

Davidson v. Slaight Communications Inc., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1038; 93 N.R. 183, refd to. [para. 32].

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Dagenais et al., [1994] 3 S.C.R. 835; 175 N.R. 1; 76 O.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 32].

Reference Re Section 94(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act (B.C.), [1985] 2 S.C.R. 486; 63 N.R. 266, refd to. [para. 32].

Furman v. Georgia (1972), 408 U.S. 238, refd to. [para. 33].

Gregg v. Georgia (1976), 428 U.S. 153, refd to. [para. 33].

R. v. Libman, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 178; 62 N.R. 161; 12 O.A.C. 33, refd to. [para. 37].

Burley, Re (1865), 1 U.C.L.J. 34, refd to. [para. 39].

Federal Republic of Germany v. Rauca (1983), 41 O.R.(2d) 225 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 41].

Whitley v. United States of America (1994), 75 O.A.C. 100; 94 C.C.C.(3d) 99 (C.A.), affd. [1996] 1 S.C.R. 467; 197 N.R. 169; 91 O.A.C. 121, refd to. [para. 41].

United States of America v. Swystun (1987), 50 Man.R.(2d) 129; 40 C.C.C.(3d) 222 (Q.B.), refd to. [para. 41].

Decter v. Halifax County Correctional Centre et al. (1983), 47 N.S.R.(2d) 203; 120 A.P.R. 203; 5 C.C.C.(3d) 364 (T.D.), refd to. [para. 41].

United States of America v. Allard and Charette, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 564; 75 N.R. 260; 8 Q.A.C. 178, refd to. [para. 51].

United States of America et al. v. Dynar, [1997] 2 S.C.R. 462; 213 N.R. 321; 101 O.A.C. 321, refd to. [para. 51].

R. v. Hebert, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 151; 110 N.R. 1, refd to. [para. 57].

R. v. Miller and Cockriell, [1977] 2 S.C.R. 680; 11 N.R. 386, refd to. [para. 66].

S. v. Makwanyane (1995), (3) S.A. 391 (S.A. Const. Ct.), refd to. [para. 67].

R. v. Harrer (H.M.), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 562; 186 N.R. 329; 64 W.A.C. 161; 105 W.A.C. 161, refd to. [para. 72].

R. v. Terry (R.S.), [1996] 2 S.C.R. 207; 197 N.R. 105; 76 B.C.A.C. 25; 125 W.A.C. 25, refd to. [para. 72].

Schreiber v. Canada (Attorney General), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 841; 225 N.R. 2973, refd to. [para. 72].

Ross v. United States of America (1994), 51 B.C.A.C. 1; 84 W.A.C. 1; 93 C.C.C.(3d) 500 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 72].

Reference Re Compulsory Arbitration, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 313; 74 N.R. 99; 78 A.R. 13, refd to. [para. 80].

Reference Re Public Service Employee Relations Act (Alta.) – see Reference Re Compulsory Arbitration.

R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697; 117 N.R. 1; 114 A.R. 81, refd to. [para. 80].

Pratt v. Jamaica (Attorney General), [1993] 4 All E.R. 769 (P.C.), refd to. [para. 94].

R. v. Milgaard (1971), 2 C.C.C.(2d) 206 (Sask. C.A.), leave to appeal denied (1971), 4 C.C.C.(2d) 566n (S.C.C.), refd to. [para. 98].

Reference Re Milgaard, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 866; 135 N.R. 81; 100 Sask.R. 183; 18 W.A.C. 183, refd to. [para. 98].

R. v. Bentley (Deceased), [1998] E.W.J. No. 1165 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 114].

R. v. Mattan, [1998] E.W.J. No. 4668 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 115].

Solesbee v. Balkcom (1950), 339 U.S. 9, refd to. [para. 122].

Elledge v. Florida (1998), 119 S. Ct. 366, refd to. [para. 122].

Knight v. Florida (1999), 120 S. Ct. 459, refd to. [para. 122].

R. v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103; 65 N.R. 87; 14 O.A.C. 335, refd to. [para. 134].

Statutes Noticed:

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, sect. 1, sect. 6(1), sect. 7, sect. 12, sect. 32(1) [para. 25].

Constitution Act, 1982, sect. 52(1) [para. 25].

Extradition Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-23, sect. 25(1) [paras. 25, 32].

Extradition Treaty between Canada and the United States of America, Can. T.S. 1976, No. 3, art. 6, art. 17 [para. 26].

Protocol No. 6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Funda­mental Freedoms Concerning the Abo­lition of the Death Penalty, E.T.S. No. 114, generally [para. 87].

Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty (1990), 29 I.L.M. 1447, general­ly [para. 87].

Second Optional Protocol to the Interna­tional Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res. 44/128, generally [para. 87].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Bienen, L.B., The Quality of Justice in Capital Cases: Illinois as a Case Study (1998), 61 Law & Contemp. Probs. 193, p. 213, footnote 103 [para. 108].

Canada, Commission on Proceedings In­volving Guy Paul Morin, Report (1998), vol. 2, p. 1243 [para. 99].

Canada, Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution, Digest of Find­ings and Recommendations (1989), p. 1 [para. 97].

Chicago Tribune, Fixing the Death Pen­alty, Dec. 29, 2000, p. 22N [para. 108].

Council of Europe, The Death Penalty: Abolition in Europe (May 1999), pp. 169 to 184 [para. 87].

Dead Man Walking Out, The Economist (June 10-16, 2000), p. 21 [para. 91].

Guy, Richard P., Status Report on the Death Penalty in Washington State (March 2000), p. 2 [para. 118].

Haines, H.H., Against Capital Punishment: The Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, 1972-1994 (1996), p. 211 [para. 33].

Liebman, James S., Fagan, Jeffrey, and West, Valerie, A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995 (June 12, 2000), generally [para. 110].

Liebman, James S., Fagan, Jeffrey, West, Valerie, and Lloyd Jonathan, Capital Attrition: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995 (2000), 78 Tex. L. Rev. 1839, generally [para. 110].

New York Times, New Hampshire Veto Saves Death Penalty, May 19, 2000, p. 16 [para. 108].

Schabas, W.A., The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law (2nd Ed. 1997), p. 176 [para. 87].

Scheck, B., Neufeld, P., and Dwyer, J., Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execu­tion and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted (2000), generally [para. 109].

United Nations, General Assembly, Model Treaty on Extradition, U.N. Doc. A/RES/45/116, Dec. 14, 1990, art. 4(d) [para. 82].

White, W.S., Capital Punishment’s Future (1993), 91 Mich. L. Rev. 1429, generally [para. 33].


S. David Frankel, Q.C., and Deborah J. Strachan, for the appellant;

Edward L. Greenspan, Q.C., and Alison Wheeler, for the respondent, Burns;

Marlys A. Edwardh, Clayton Ruby, Jill Copeland and A. Breese Davies, for the respondent, Rafay;

David Matas and Mark Hecht, for the intervenor, Amnesty International;

Martin W. Mason (written submissions), for the intervenor, the International Centre for Crimi­nal Law & Human Rights;

Michael Lomer and James Lockyer, for the intervenor, the Criminal Lawyers Asso­ciation;

Richard C.C. Peck, Q.C., and Nikos Har­ris, for the intervenor, the Washington Association of Criminal Defence Law­yers;

Lorne Waldman (written submissions), for the intervenor, the Senate of the Repub­lic of Italy.

Solicitors of Record:

Attorney General of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, for the appellant;

Greenspan, Henein & White, Toronto, Ontario, for the respondent, Burns;

Ruby & Edwardh, Toronto, Ontario, for the respondent, Rafay;

David Matas, Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the intervenor, Amnesty International;

Gowling Strathy & Henderson, Ottawa, Ontario, for the intervenor, International Centre for Criminal Law & Human Rights;

Pinkofsky & Lockyer, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervenor, Criminal Lawyers Association;

Peck Tammen, Vancouver, British Col­umbia, for the intervenor, Washington Association of Criminal Defence Law­yers;

Jackman, Waldman & Associates, Toron­to, Ontario, for the intervenor, Senate of the Republic of Italy.

This appeal was heard on May 23, 2000, before McLachlin, C.J.C., L’Heureux-Dubé, Gonthier, Iacobucci, Major, Bastarache, Binnie, Arbour and LeBel, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

On February 15, 2001, the following judg­ment of the Supreme Court of Canada was delivered in both official languages by the Court.


United States of America v. Burns and Rafay

(2001), 148 B.C.A.C. 1 (SCC)

Supreme Court of Canada
Reading Time:
1 hour 6 minutes
Arbour, Bastarache, Binnie, Gonthier, Iacobucci, L’Heureux-Dubé, LeBel, Major, McLachlin 

By The Court
: Legal systems have to live with the possibility of error. The unique feature of capital punishment is that it puts beyond recall the possibility of correction. In recent years, aided by the advances in the forensic sciences, including DNA testing, the courts and governments in this country and elsewhere have come to acknowledge a number of instances of wrongful convictions for murder despite all of the careful safeguards put in place for the protection of the innocent. The instances in Canada are few, but if capital punishment had been carried out, the result could have been the killing by the government of innocent individuals. The names of Marshall, Milgaard, Morin, Sophonow and Parsons signal prudence and caution in a murder case. Other countries have also experienced revelations of wrongful convictions, including states of the United States where the death penalty is still imposed and carried into execution.

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