Sep 10 2008
Liberal MP Dhaliwal defends letter to U.S. judge
A local MP now regrets not calling police before writing a letter to a U.S. judge, voicing support for an international drug trafficker.
Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Newton-North Delta, wrote to California District Judge Stephen Wilson on July 9 recommending a chance for the rehabilitation of Ranjit Singh Cheema.
Cheema was sentenced in California this week to five years in prison for conspiring to smuggle 200 kilograms of heroin from Pakistan to North America in 1998.
In letter on Government of Canada letterhead, Dhaliwal explained to the judge he was approached by Cheema's father for help.
Dhaliwal describes Ranjit Cheema, who will one day return to his family in Canada, as man who seems committed to rehabilitation.
"I personally believe, along with tougher laws, rehabilitation is fundamentally essential to make our society, our country, and our planet a better place to live," Dhaliwal writes in the letter.
"I have no doubt that if he (Cheema) is given support and direction, he will be a strong, active member of his community in years to come," Dhaliwal wrote.
"I give my support and recommendation for him to be given a chance to rehabilitate."
However, Cheema was on police radar right up until the time he left the country for trial, according to Sgt. Shinder Kirk with the provincial Integrated Gang Task Force.
"There is still that belief that he was involved in that criminal lifestyle," Kirk told The Leader Wednesday.
That was the belief of police right up until the time Cheema was extradited for trial in the United States.
"Not only for what may have been occurring recently, but also for past occurrences," Kirk said.
Dhaliwal, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign in one of the province's battleground ridings, now regrets not having called the police before writing the letter.
"Certainly, now I'm getting those type of questions. At that time, it did not come to my mind," Dhaliwal said, adding hindsight, he would have called police first.
"Yes, I would have."
One local Conservative is already asking Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion to discipline Dhaliwal for sending the letter.
“It is highly inappropriate for a politician to attempt to influence a judge’s sentencing decision in a criminal case," said Russ Hiebert, Tory MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.
"Stephane Dion knows there has always been a separation between branches of government and an MP attempting to influence the administration of justice crosses the line."
However, the Liberal Leader said on the campaign trail Wednesday that he acccepts Dhaliwal's'''''s explanation.
"Mr. Dhaliwal asked for the rehabilitation of this man," Dion told reporters. "He was supporting that this man should have a sentence but he was also asking for rehabilitation."
Dhaliwal said Thursday he can't recall sending any other letters of support for people who were facing punishment for serious crimes.
"Not that I recall," Dhaliwal said. "I would remember, (and there has) not been a person like this. I write thousands of letters on other issues."
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