For the past five years, Larry Pinkney has languished in jail in Mission, B.C. During that time, he vigorously maintained that Canada has denied him his full civil rights. But it was not until the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva added its weighty voice to his claim last month that officials in Ottawa were obliged to pay attention.
The world body accused Canada of violating its commitment to provide speedy justice by failing to produce in a reasonable time court records necessary for Pinkney to appeal his conviction for attempted extortion. While most court records are made available within five months, Pinkney was forced to wait 2V2 years—a delay he feels allowed his case to “grow cold” and contributed to his appeal being denied. And even though he has now paid the full penalty for his crime, he feels his freedom is still in jeopardy because of the way he has been treated by Canadian immigration officials.
Pinkney, who headed the radical Black Nationalist Independence Party in San Francisco, was convicted in 1976 of attempting to extort $50,000 from a group of Asian immigrants in Vancouver—a conviction that the UN body did not challenge. Pinkney’s story is that while working to bring about an alliance between the American black movement and emerging black African nations, he had stumbled on information about a smuggling operation involving Canadian immigration officers and Asians coming to Canada from Kenya—information he intended to pass on to Kenyan officials. The Canadian court accepted Pinkney’s evidence that he had indeed been dealing with an official of the Kenyan Embassy in Washington. However, it refused to be-
lieve that when he had asked the alleged smugglers for $50,000 “hush money” it was merely as a ruse to confirm the suspicions he had voiced to the Kenyans.
Although his five-year jail sentence ends Jan. 11, Pinkney’s problems are far from over. While the normal immigration procedure would allow him to choose the country to which he is to be deported, Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy has used his ministerial powers to specify that Pinkney must be deported to the United States—despite the fact that Pinkney claims to be a political refugee from that country.
Pinkney says he was framed by American police on assault and burglary charges and that—after being convicted in 1973—he jumped bail and fled the country for Europe before being sentenced. To bolster his story, Pinkney points to U.S. government evidence revealed last year under U.S. freedom of information laws indicating that the FBI used a wide range of “dirty tricks” to disrupt and discredit other black activists in the United States. Last fall, Amnesty International, the Londonbased human rights group which won the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize, accused the FBI of lying, faking evidence and threatening witnesses in attempts to get black and Indian activists jailed.
Pinkney applied for refugee status in Canada after his arrest in 1977, but the immigration officer refused to allow
him to give information about his political activities. He missed the five-day deadline for appeal, and all his subsequent efforts to have his refugee request reopened have been rejected.
For his part, Ian Rankin, an assistant to Axworthy, says the Canadian government is aware of the recent revelations about the FBI and the black activists, but it still has no intention of allowing Pinkney to present his specific claims. “This case has gone through the process,” says Rankin. “At this point there is no way, nohow, to consider his claim as a refugee.”
During his five-year legal wrangle with Canadian authorities, Pinkney has turned his cell at Mission Medium Security Institution into an office full of files relating to his case. At this point he harbors no illusions that Canada will grant him refugee status or even give him the opportunity to present his case for it. But he is hoping that the UN ruling may encourage Canadian authorities to let him be deported to the country of his choice.
Meanwhile his lawyer, Stan Guenther, says there are indications Pinkney might be welcome in some European countries, where his case has received wider press attention. Above all, Pinkney wants to avoid going back to the United States, where he faces a jail sentence for a crime he insists he never committed. “That’s the bottom line,” he says. “I’d like to see what it’s like to walk outside the fence again.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.