Throw Schreiber out

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
National Post, Thursday, November 22, 2007

OTTAWA -Stephen Harper must decide whether to extradite Karlheinz Schreiber to Germany, where he is wanted on charges of tax evasion, fraud and bribery. Whichever way he decides it, this will prove to be one of the defining moments of the Prime Minister's career.

The clock is ticking on the 15 days the Ontario Court of Appeals has given Schreiber to appeal his extradition order to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has already thrown out Schreiber's case twice. Unless there is compelling new evidence or information, there is no reason for the high court to review the issue again. Assuming the Supremes decline to hear the case, Schreiber could be on a plane to Germany by the end of next week.

Harper has a simple choice: either uphold the rule of law, or capitulate to a howling mob of opposition parties and the media, who will accuse him of hustling one of the principals in the Mulroney-Schreiber affair out of the country.

It's a significant leadership moment -- one that will be closely watched by the provinces and even by the leaders of the foreign governments with which Ottawa does business. It's a question of whether Harper can be rolled. It's also a question of who is running this country, Schreiber or Harper.

Schreiber's extradition case has dragged on for more than eight years, as Schreiber and his lawyers have desperately sought to keep their client away from Germany's courts. In the process, the case has made a mockery of Canadian justice.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case again, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson would sign the extradition order -- unless the Prime Minister ordered him not to. The rule of law is the principle at stake here. Court after court, time after time, has upheld Schreiber's extradition order. Justice must be allowed to run its course. The judicial branch of government should be allowed to complete its work without interference from the legislative branch.

Quite apart from these issues, there's the question of whether Harper will capitulate to Schreiber's attempted blackmail in posing conditions for his appearance before a public inquiry. Having demanded such a public inquiry in the past, he said in another of his celebrated jailhouse interviews that he wouldn't give "one f----ing word" of testimony if he were extradited from Canada, even if the Germans later sent him back.

Apart from trying to blackmail the Prime Minister, Schreiber apparently doesn't know how commissions of inquiry work in this country. The commissioner will have subpoena power to compel the appearance of any and all witnesses, under pain of contempt of court.

Caving in to this kind of blackmail would be unthinkable for any prime minister, not only on the narrow issues presented by the case, but on the broader question of leadership.

The Prime Minister plans to call a First Ministers' Conference on the economy, probably in January. He's prepared to limit the federal spending power in provincial jurisdiction, but he also wants a strengthened economic union, and has the constitutional authority to demand it under Section 121, the common-market clause of the Constitution. If he folds on the Schreiber case, the premiers would sense his weakness and simply tell him to drop dead.

Canada also sits around the G8 table, where our partners include Germany. How would Harper explain to Chancellor Angela Merkel that he rolled over for a guy in jail, a guy the Germans prosecutors want in their jail? How would he explain it to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing down the unions in his own leadership moment in France? How, for that matter, would he explain it to President George W. Bush, the next time he needs to take a firm stand with the Americans?

Harper flew out to Uganda yesterday for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, which is expected to expel Pakistan over President Pervez Musharraf 's suspension of democracy. Well, if Canada can throw Musharraf out of the Commonwealth, it can also throw Schreiber out of the country.

 
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