The Renee Boje Case
Renee Boje Legal Battle Finally Resolved
August 24, 2006 - Los Angeles, CA, USA
CA: A US federal
court judge has sentenced American expatriate
Renee Boje to one year's probation, during which time she will be allowed to
reside in Canada with her family.
The ruling concludes a nearly decade-long legal battle for Boje, who filed for refugee status in Canada in 1998 after US federal agents raided a marijuana cultivation operation at the home of cancer survivor and medical cannabis patient Todd McCormick, with whom Boje had a working relationship. Boje faced a potential 10-year federal sentence for her alleged role in the McCormick case.
Under the terms of a plea agreement struck between Boje and federal prosecutors, Boje pled guilty to minor marijuana possession and was sentenced on August 14 to one-year probation. She was allowed to return to Canada the following day, where she resides with her husband and three-year-old child.
Earlier this week, Canadian immigration officials granted Boje a 6-month visitors permit to remain in the country while she attempts to secure Canadian citizenship.
Boje and US prosecutors had begun negotiations to end her legal fight after Boje was denied refugee status in Canada in 2005. Last June, Canadian Justice Minister Irving Colter ruled that Boje must turn herself over to federal authorities and face extradition to the United States. Lawyers for Boje had been appealing that decision, but were not optimistic that it would be overturned.
For more information, please visit: http://www.reneeboje.com/ or: http://www.cannabisculture.com/articles/4803.html.
R E N E E B O J E A R C H I V E
Renee Boje was charged with others in the Todd McCormick marijuana cultivation case in Bel Air, California. While initially arrested and processed, the charges were then dropped against her and on the advice of counsel, she came to Canada. There she was found in a medical marijuana grow operation for the BC Compassion Club Society. While initially charged with that, along with others, the charges were dropped. The US then reinitiated the charges against her and extradition was sought. She asserted that she was a victim of the US War on Drugs.
With the assistance of Conroy & Company, she fought extradition proceedings and sought refugee status in Canada. Ultimately, she was ordered surrendered to the US in the judicial phase and in the political phase by the Minister of Justice. Appeals were pending in the British Columbia Court of Appeal in relation to both decisions when counsel for Ms. Boje was approached by the US Department of Justice seeking to resolve the matter. In the result, Ms. Boje travelled to California and pled guilty to possession of marijuana under 30 grams and was sentenced to one year's probation. She is only required to report if she is in the US and then within 90 days of her attendance there. She was allowed to return to Canada and was not required to report while she is in Canada. She is now able to be in Canada and the US, and once she completes her period of probation, that will end the matter. She was on bail here in Canada for approximately seven years.
A web site was established for Ms. Boje at http://www.reneeboje.com. The two rulings from Justice J. Catliff follow, as well as the Notice of Appeal:
2000 BCSC 0243 (February 9, 2000)
2000 BCSC 0246 (February 9, 2000)
Notice of Appeal (February 9, 2000)
If the decision had not been to surrender her, there would have been a big celebration. However, the decision was to order her surrender and the matter was then appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, and that appeal was to be heard at the same time as the appeal from Judge Catliff as set out above.
The documents below represent our submissions to the Minister of Justice with respect tot he Refugee Claim and the extradition issues.
List of documents sent to the Minister of Justice
Letter from Mr. Conroy accompanying submissions to the International Assistance Group (September 19, 2000)
Letter from Mr. Conroy accompanying submissions to the International Assistance Group (October 26, 2000)
Letter from Mr. Conroy accompanying submissions to the International Assistance Group (November 21, 2000)
Letter from Mr. Conroy accompanying submissions to the International Assistance Group (December 10, 2000)
Refugee and Extradition Submissions
Summary of our submissions prepared by the International Assistance Group for submission to the Minister of Justice (April 25, 2002)
Letter from Mr. Conroy to the International Assistance Group responding to the Summary (May 13, 2002)
Letter from Mr. Conroy to the International Assistance Group commenting further on the Summary (May 30, 2002)
Letter from Carole Sheppard of the International Assistance Group (December 31, 2002)
Diplomatic Note 98 (March 5, 1999)
Chapter 40 of the Federal Prosecution Service Desk Book, Part VIII, International Assistance
After we responded to the first Summary provided, we received some further clarification (see Carole Sheppard's letter dated December 31, 2002, above). We then received a Supplemental Summary and responded further to that. The Minister then made his decision.
Minister's Decision (June 15, 2005)
Appeals were pending in the B.C. Court of Appeal in relation to the decisions of the Minister and Justice Catliff when an agreement was worked out between Ms. Boje's counsel and the US Department of Justice. Ms. Boje pled guilty to possession of marijuana under 30 grams in California and was sentenced to one year's probation.
U.S. Plea Agreement (March 24, 2006)
U.S. Judgment (August 17, 2006)
Ms. Boje returned to Canada and is not required to report to probation while she is in Canada.
Boje free – for now
by Pete Brady, Special To Cannabis Culture (17 Jun, 2005)
and political refugee Renee Boje surrendered herself to the custody of Canadian
authorities Friday morning, June 17, not knowing if a US extradition request
would be honored and she would be taken away from her husband, son, and friends
in Vancouver where she has lived for nearly eight years.
Boje was handcuffed and taken into custody after having received a decision yesterday in which Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler turned down Boje's request for refugee status.
After a hearing in a Vancouver federal court, however, Boje was released from jail on bail. A judge had ruled that Cotler's decision should be reviewed by the Canadian court system.
Chris Bennett – Boje's husband and a prominent cannabis activist-author who manages Marc Emery's revolutionary Pot-TV Internetwork – told a cheering crowd that his wife was being released.
He had harsh words for Cotler, saying that the Justice Minister, renowned for his human rights work, had "used my wife as a gold chip in the world of commerce with America, to continue ensured trade relations and other relations with America."
"He's showing no compassion in his decision, no evidence of human rights types of ideas. It's purely a political decision," Bennett said of Cotler's decision to deny Boje refugee status.
Boje was arrested in California eight years ago on marijuana conspiracy charges. In the heady days after Californians passed Proposition 215 – the precedent-setting medical marijuana law – the attractive young artist worked on cannabis literature and activism with medical cannabis advocates and patients like Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick in Southern California.
US federal authorities arrested Boje in connection with a medical cannabis garden run by McWilliams and McCormick in 1997. She was held for 72 hours. During that time, Boje found out how brutal jail can be. She was held in a federal women's prison in Los Angeles, but male guards repeatedly strip searched her, uttered verbal threats of physical and sexual violence, and made lewd gestures.
Boje felt lucky to have been released on bail without being mistreated in prison. But the government's mistreatment of her didn't stop. As McCormick and McWilliams were being further investigated and put on trial for growing medical herb, police pressured Boje to testify against the two activists or be put in jail as a co-conspirator. She was told she would go to prison for at least ten years, and possibly for the rest of her life.
She refused to nark on her friends, so the feds made her life a living hell – following her, calling her, interfering with her ability to earn a living, interrogating her. This went on for nearly a year.
During that time, Boje researched the American prison-industrial complex. She found compelling evidence of human rights abuses in prisons, especially against women. Fearing for her safety if she was sent to prison, she made up her mind that she would neither go to prison nor testify against her friends.
Instead, she went to Vancouver, Canada in 1998, where she was welcomed as a political refugee by cannabis seed entrepreneur, legalization advocate and philanthropist Marc Emery. He helped her get established in Canada. She opened her own business called Urban Shaman selling entheogenic supplements, did shows on Pot-TV, and gained international media attention as a drug war refugee who sought asylum in Canada and who told the world that the US drug war was a violation of human rights.
US authorities have been pressing for Boje's extradition ever since she arrived in Canada. The courageous woman – who fell in love, married Canadian cannabis activist, scholar and author Chris Bennett, and gave birth to a lovely son, Shiva – fought valiantly to convince Canada's immigration and justice authorities that she faced grave danger if she was returned to the United States.
She had high hopes for a favorable ruling from Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, long known as a human rights advocate and peace activist who specialized in fighting for the rights of oppressed minorities and women.
Instead, in a June 16 written decision described as "horrific" by Bennett, Cotler rejected Boje and set up the possibility that she would be sent back to the US, where she would presumably face criminal charges and the possibility of life in prison.
Ironies abound: Peter McWilliams died in 2000 because a judge would not let him use medical marijuana while he was on federal bail. Todd McCormick served nearly four years of a five year federal marijuana sentence and was released from prison in December, 2003.
There is now nobody for Boje to testify against. The feds have nothing to gain by imprisoning her in the US.
Drug war politics
Cotler's rejection of Boje's pleadings was inexplicable if one only examines his human rights record, and the compelling case that Boje and her lawyers made about the human rights abuses that plague American prisons and which characterize the American war on marijuana in general.
It would seem that a justice minister with such a powerful history of fighting for rights would clearly see the Boje case as a chance to strike a blow against the drug war.
But Cotler was surely ordered by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin not to rule in Boje's favor, because doing so would create an international incident and perhaps cause a break in diplomatic relations between the US and Canada. The two countries are already at each other's throats regarding trade, cannabis, continental military policy, and the US's illegal war in Iraq.
If Cotler had ruled in favor of Boje, he would have been affirming, with the full weight of the Canadian government behind him, that the US is a rogue state that violates the human rights of its own citizens. There could have been repercussions in the United Nations, which has already determined that the US is violating human rights in its prisons at Guantanamo Bay and around the world.
US officials are waging a vicious drug war with Canada, demanding that Canadian federal and provincial governments must tighten their cannabis laws and enforcement so that there is uniform policy and procedure in the two countries. US politicians and pundits blame "BC bud" for corrupting American youth because it is so strong, ignoring the fact that most marijuana consumed in the US comes from Mexico or is grown domestically.
Americans officials also condemn Canada for not corralling Canadian seed retailer Marc Emery, who has provided tens of thousands of marijuana seeds to US growers, from which the growers have produced tons of mind-bending cannabis, along with many generations of clone crops that never would have existed in the US if it hadn't been for Emery's gathering together and disseminating superior worldwide weed genetics.
Unconcerned, Emery openly defies cannabis laws and has created the world's most outrageous reality television show called The Contest, in which he gathers primo cannabis from the entire world, smokes it and rates it assisted by a crew of pot experts including hottie potbabes, Marijuana Man, and Chris Bennett, on his own television network at www.pot-tv.net.
The timing of Cotler's announcement indicates that the recent US Supreme Court decision in the Raich case was a factor in his ruling. If the Supreme Court had affirmed the rights of cannabis growers and caregivers to grow and provide marijuana without federal interference in states like California where medpot has been made legal, the federal government would have had no right to pursue Boje any longer.
But because the Supremes ruled against Raich, reaffirming the right of federal drug agents to arrest pot people in states where medpot is legal, Cotler probably felt that Boje was technically arrestable under US federal law, and that he could not afford to put the Canadian government in the position of standing down the US government any longer.
Cotler's written response to Boje is a rote dismissal of the evidence she presented regarding human rights violations in US prisons, as well as the irregularities in her case. It also downplays the obvious differences between Canada's approach to marijuana and the more hard-line approach favored by the US.
The basic if unstated main theme of Cotler's rejection of Boje's refugee claim is that backing Boje would have caused big problems between the US and Canada.
In December, 2001, hundreds of people watched the mystical Gnostic wedding of Chris Bennett and Renee Boje, who were married in a quiet coastal village near Vancouver.
The event was attended friends, relatives and prominent cannabis activists from around the world. The couple's hour long ritual featured original music, a surrealistic, rave-quality light show, a ganja-infused wedding ceremony conducted by author and reverend Chris Conrad, dozens of costumed dancers and actors, and memorable moments of high emotion and gentle humor.
Bennett and Boje met in 1999 while both were working for Marc Emery, who sponsored the wedding. Emery was Bennett's best man. Boje was escorted to the wedding dais by bridesmaids dressed in colorful pot-leaf fairy costumes, bearing magic wands made of joints.
During the climax of the marriage ritual, Conrad instructed Emery to pack a bowl of BC Emerybud in a three foot high ornate glass bong. Bennett and Boje took deep hits off the bong and exchanged the scared smoke during a kiss as the crowd applauded and prayed.
Also present that special day was the couple's son Shiva, who is now three years old. At the time, he was in Renee's body; his mom's bare, swollen stomach was painted with ancient fertility symbols.
Three years later, Shiva is a sweet, lovely child who basks in the glow of his parent's love.
Speaking from Vancouver just after Cotler's decision was handed down, Bennett noted that Shiva was feeling the weight of his mom's fate. The author-activist wondered about the family values of drug warriors who proclaim they are protecting children.
"This ruling is horrible and devastating for my family," Bennett said. "It totally discounts the strong arguments we made about the differences between Canadian marijuana law and US marijuana law, and about the human rights violations routinely found in US jails and prisons."
Bennett notes that if Boje is shipped back to the US and imprisoned, it violates his rights as a father and husband. Boje is not likely to easily be let back into Canada, regardless of the ultimate outcome of her court cases in the US, and Bennett is unable to enter the United States.
"I have no criminal convictions, but that doesn't matter to US border authorities," Bennett explains. "If you work as a cannabis activist, you are banned from entering the US. That means I can't see my wife. It means our son can't see his mother. They are destroying our family."
Legal experts predicted that Boje had a good chance of getting judicial review and bail. The judicial review could take years, and one expert said that it is not likely that the Canadian government would turn Boje over to US authorities at this time, due to political considerations.
Vancouver attorney David Aaron is a personal friend of Boje who has a background in Foreign Affairs, human rights, international law, and administrative law. After studying Cotler's decision, Aaron provided the following comment:
"Fortunately, our Courts exercise judicial oversight over Ministerial decisions such as this one. The Minister's decision was undoubtedly affected by political factors which would have rendered his refusal of the USA's extradition request a diplomatic faux pas.
"The Minister has left it for the Courts to do what the Canadian Government could not do: stand up to the United States on the basis of a distinction between the Canadian and American view of justice. I am hopeful that, in reviewing the decision, the Court of Appeal will be more impressed by the humanitarian factors at play than the political factors. The preservation of Canadian values requires that Canada distinguish itself from the oppressive elements of American society on an issue such as this."
Aaron's legal opinion turned out to be correct, and, at least until her next hearing in September, Boje can remain in Canada.
It could have gone the other way. If the judge at today's hearing had ruled against her, Renee would have been taken immediately from the Court and sent to America to stand trial. This morning would have been the last time in a long time, perhaps forever, that Boje, her husband, and her child could hold hands and hug each other in person.
By Kirk Tousaw
Bail for Boje:
the Fight Continues
The Courtroom was filled with friends and supporters, and the spillover crowd in the halls of the BC Law Courts strained to hear as the Judge rendered his decision. A sigh of relief, then cheers, rang out in the building when bail was granted. Renee would remain free as she fights her extradition to the United States.
Today's hearing marked the latest in Renee's long battle to remain free in Canada with her husband, Chris Bennett, and their young son Shiva. Though it seemed certain that bail would be granted (Renee has been out on bail for a long time, has never violated her conditions and the Crown was not opposing bail) it is always difficult when your fate is in the hands of a stranger, and your own hands are in cuffs. Fortunately the judge agreed and, after a few hours of paperwork, Renee walked out of the court to rejoin her family.
Renee will continue to fight extradition to the United States. She has the right to challenge Justice Minister Cotler's decision and can appeal the original BC Supreme Court ruling that ordered her extradition (available in the Renee Boje archives at www.johnconroy.com). Those fights will take time, and will be costly. To support Renee, please donate to her defense fund. For more information, please visit www.reneeboje.com.
The BC Supreme Court Decision
The first avenue of attack is to appeal the decision of the BC Supreme Court. This appeal will be heard in the BC Court of Appeal (for our American readers, the BC Court of Appeal is the highest provincial court whereas the BC Supreme Court is a lower trial court). Basically, Renee will argue that the lower court erred when it decided to order her extradition to the United States. The BC Marijuana Party intends to seek leave to file an amicus brief on Renee's behalf in the Court of Appeal.
The Justice Minister's Decision
Another way to challenge Renee's extradition is to go after Justice Minister Cotler's recent determination. Minister Cotler's role was to decide whether to surrender Renee to the US authorities, after the BC Supreme Court determined that she should be extradited. The relevant legislation gives Mr. Cotler the authority to refuse to surrender Renee in a number of situations.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cotler denied each and every one of Renee's arguments. This denial, however, is subject to judicial review. Essentially, Renee will be arguing that Mr. Cotler made legal errors in coming to his decision to surrender her to the United States. If this argument succeeds, Minister Cotler may be ordered to reconsider.
One thing to keep in mind is that Minister Cotler is not a judge. He is a politician. And politicians depend on the support of the public. Now, more than ever, it is critical to put political pressure on Minister Cotler and the rest of Parliament. Our government should be ashamed of Cotler's decision. The United States federal system imposes horrific penalties and refuses to allow defendants to raise medical necessity as a defense to marijuana charges. That is not justice and we need to tell Mr. Cotler that he should be protecting Renee from persecution, not throwing her to the wolves.
'Marijuana refugee' granted bail
Last Updated: Jun 17 2005 02:46 PM PDT
VANCOUVER - An American woman who has claimed refugee status after fleeing drug conspiracy charges in the U.S. has been released from jail in Vancouver, just hours after she turned herself in on Friday.
Renee Boje was ordered to surrender to authorities after the federal minister of justice denied her application to remain in Canada as a refugee.
Her husband, Chris Bennett had emerged from the courthouse on Friday morning to the cheers of supporters celebrating a judge's decision to release Boje on bail.
Earlier this week, federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler had dismissed Boje's application for refugee status, and ordered her to turn herself in.
Bennett, who is a marijuana activist, believes the minister's decision was politically motivated.
"He used my wife as a gold chip in the world of commerce with America, to continue ensured trade relations and other relations with America.
"He's showing no compassion in his decision, no evidence of human rights types of ideas. It's purely a political decision," says Bennett.
Boje was arrested in California eight years ago on marijuana conspiracy charges. She came to Canada a year later and has been fighting to remain here ever since.
Her lawyer says the next move will be to appeal her extradition order and ask for a judicial review of the justice minister's decision.
She faces a sentence of up to 10 years if convicted in in California. And B.C. Marijuana Party Leader Marc Emery wonders if Boje wouldn't be better off trying to strike some sort of deal with U.S. authorities.
"Part of me says, just maybe she could make some kind of deal for some kind of guaranteed sentence – if they're going to give her a sentence of one year or two years."
But Boje says she doesn't see that as an option. "I would never ever choose to return to the United States. I know that I would be treated with disrespect and inhumanely"
She says she won't give up trying to have the extradition order lifted, saying hers is a political struggle.
Boje has been ordered to be back in court on Sept. 30.