Thu. Jul. 3, 2003. | Updated at 01:34 PM
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Jun. 30, 2003. 08:29 PM
Convicted murderer challenges Extradition Act

VANCOUVER (CP) - The lawyer for a man convicted in absentia in Italy for murdering 11 people at a Nazi prison camp argued today against the constitutional validity of sections of Canada's Extradition Act.

Italy has asked Canada to surrender Michael Seifert, now 79, so he can begin serving a life sentence imposed three years ago by an Italian military court for offences that occurred during the Second World War.

Seifert had been accused at the trial in Verona of committing 15 murders. But he was convicted of torturing and murdering 11 people at the SS-run Bolzano prison camp in Italy between December 1944 and April 1945.

Defence lawyer Doug Christie told B.C. Supreme Court his client's rights were breached under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms because Italy held the trial and reached a verdict without the accused being there.

Christie told Justice Selwyn Romilly that he, not Canada's justice minister, has jurisdiction to rule on the Extradition Act's validity.

"The courts are moving away from the idea that just because some other country chooses to indict that we automatically rubber stamp these proceedings," Christie said, adding his client is a Canadian citizen.

However, the Canadian government recently began the process of stripping Seifert of his citizenship because the retired sawmill worker lied to immigration officials about his past when he came to Canada in 1951.

"A trial in absentia is fundamentally wrong and the minister shouldn't have the power to give effect to it one way or the other," Christie argued.

He also questioned whether Seifert's trial should have occurred in the modern republic of Italy while the offences, if they occurred, took place in what was not Italian territory in 1944.

"It seems ridiculous that a country can request extradition for an offence that occurred within their borders (but) that occurred outside their borders," Christie said.

Federal prosecutor Roger McMeans told the court that such historical debate is not part of the hearing.

Canada has extradition treaties with 50 countries and people can be tried in absentia in 35 of those jurisdictions, McMeans said.

He disagreed with Christie, saying Canada's justice minister, not the judge, has jurisdiction to rule on the constitutional validity of the Extradition Act.

"Extradition is a matter which only the minister may grant."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1994 that an extradition judge should not be concerned with the territorial aspect when a state requesting extradition has jurisdiction, he said.

The highest court in the country also allows anyone who wants to challenge the justice minister's surrender order for extradition to seek a remedy through the Court of Appeal, he said.

McMeans said Canada has had a treaty with Italy since 1873 to extradite those wanted for murder.

The Italian trial heard testimony about Seifert starving a 15-year-old prisoner to death, savagely beating another teenager with a stick, hanging a prisoner on a fence until he died, gouging a person's eyes out, beating prisoners before shooting them and torturing a woman before killing her and her daughter.

Canada's justice minister can refuse to grant a surrender order in some cases, McMeans said.

That includes cases where it's believed extradition would be unjust or oppressive, if it's based on a person's race, religion or nationality or if the offence would be punishable by the death penalty.

In such instances, the minister can get assurances from the requesting state or make a surrender order subject to certain conditions.

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