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Joel Bitar Battles Canada: New York Activist Faces Unprecedented Extradition Over G20 Protests

The activist taken from his home on Valentine's Day to face extradition to Canada isn't going down without a fight.

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Bitar’s case certainly falls into this last category, “border matters." There is a sense that if the US does not appease Canada in his case, it could retaliate by refusing to extradite an alleged criminal, a future Tre Arrow, to the US.

To make things more complicated, public outrage at the proposed pipeline grows everyday. NASA’s leading climate scientist James Hansen has said that the pipeline, which is proposed to connect Houston and Port Arthur on the US’ Gulf Coast to Hardisty, Alberta, at the heart of the tar sands in Canada, would be “game-over” for the environment. On Friday March 1, the US State Department released a review of the proposed project, and unsurprisingly predicted that the pipeline would have no adverse environmental impacts. The Obama administration, for its part, is waiting to make its decision until more evaluations become available.

Whether or not there is a direct link between the repression Bitar is facing and the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline may not matter. What is clear though, according to Will Potter, and what unites the two issues, is that the public is fed up.  

“Whether it’s the Keystone pipeline or the militarization of police or the crackdown on dissent, the public is increasingly not supportive of these international tactics,” he says. “I think with both of those things it’s really an international PR crisis that the Canadian government is desperately trying to justify these tactics and desperately trying to save this dying campaign.”

The Road Ahead

Bitar’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 20, and at that time, his extradition request by the Canadian government will be decided. According to his former lawyer Martin Stolar, there is potential for a strong argument against his extradition.

“In most of the extradition treaties that exist around the world, there is an exception for political cases,” he says. In legal jargon, this is known as the "political offense exemption." It’s a tricky framework that differentiates common crimes from crimes of a political nature. Most scholars believe that its roots are in the American Revolution, and that it was created in order to protect the losers of warring nation states from post-war prosecution.

It goes something like this: “As opposed to common offenses, political crimes are not inherently criminal because the perpetrator acts not for personal motives but for the benefit of society as a whole. Criminal acts, in contrast, are anti-social and not committed to improving the general well-being of society. Because the political offender is committed to enhancing the general well-being of his society, his acts are less reprehensible and in some cases, even excusable. Therefore, the judiciary’s role is not to determine tacitly that particular objectives are not legitimate.”

This, of course, will be an uphill battle. Just as the last decade has seen the rise of the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, it has seen the exponential criminalization of dissent, putting this and any argument that seeks to justify crimes of a political character in a prickly light. But there is every indication that Joel Bitar seeks to fight his extradition to Canada however he can. He’s not going down without a fight.

Tom Hintze is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @@thhintze.

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