Jamaican-born murderer loses bid to stall deportation by claiming he should serve full life sentence in Canada

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

John McLeod is by all accounts a nasty man.

The Jamaican immigrant to Canada has a history of violence against his girlfriends and has been serving a life sentence for the second-degree murder of his last one, Brendaly Figueroa.

When she tried to end their relationship, McLeod flew into a rage, slit her throat and stuffed her into a suitcase that he left beside Highway 401 near Toronto more than a decade ago.

His 2001 conviction earned him an automatic life sentence, with parole eligibility initially set at 10 years. A subsequent appeal by the Crown increased it to 12 years and McLeod became eligible for full parole in August 2011.

But he didn't bother applying last year, and he waived his right to a hearing again this year. Not because McLeod thought he didn't deserve parole, but because he was worried he'd be deported once he set foot outside prison in Kingston, Ont.

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But, as the National Post reports, McLeod had a plan to stay in Canada. He, through Kingston lawyer Fergus (Chip) O'Connor, sued Ottawa in Federal Court, arguing his constitutional rights were violated under legislation that treats foreign criminals differently from Canadian ones.

In essence, he wanted the right to serve out his life term in Canada, including being allowed parole here like a Canadian citizen.

In his suit, McLeod argued that under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a foreign national convicted of a serious crime is subject to removal from Canada once his prison sentence "is completed." For those purposes, it's deemed completed "as soon as any form of conditional release is granted," the Post reported.

But the 1992 Corrections and Conditional Release Act says that a Canadian's sentence is not considered complete until the sentence expiry, even if the prisoner is given parole.  A subsection of that law says that in the case of foreigners convicted prior to the immigration legislation coming into force in 2002, the sentence is deemed completed immediately after granting of any form of conditional release or parole.

McLeod, who claims he's innocent of the murder, contended the laws violated several sections of the Charter by treating him differently from Canadian citizens and denied him the opportunity to benefit from the chance conditional release or parole would help him reintegrate into society.

But in a decision released late last month, Justice Donald Rennie systematically shot down all of McLeod's arguments.

For starters, the judge noted, McLeod was denied a bid for unescorted temporary absences and day parole in 2008 not because of his status as a foreigner is subject to deportation but because he just wasn't a good risk.

McLeod refuses to except responsibility or show remorse for the murder, Rennie wrote, nor acknowledge his history of violent offences against "intimate partners." He also shunned the prison's family-violence program and would not co-operate with his case managers, who concluded it was risky to release him.

There's no evidence he was denied conditional release because he'd be deported, the judge wrote.

"Rather, the evidence, unequivocally, is that he has been denied conditional release because of his refusal to accept responsibility for the murder he was found to have committed and for his failure to participate in the recommended rehabilitative programs," Rennie wrote.

"In other words, he has not been denied the benefit of graduated release because of the legislation, but rather by his own conduct."

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Rennie also found no evidence the laws governing the incarceration of foreigners are discriminatory under the Charter. McLeod's claim mistakenly stems from an assumption he has the legal right to stay in Canada and have access to Canadian society, which the Supreme Court has previously rejected.

"Parliament has the right to prescribe the conditions under which foreign nationals who are convicted in Canada will be removed from Canada," Rennie wrote.

"As the applicant has no right to remain in Canada, he has no right to access Canadian society under terms and conditions that are available to Canadian citizens; hence no Charter issue arises from the decision by Parliament to link the removal to the completion of sentence, namely the first date of some form of parole eligibility."

Deportation does not deprive McLeod "of anything he has not, by his own conduct, already lost," Rennie found.

So, barring an appeal, McLeod will remain in prison until he's bundled on a plane to Jamaica sometime in the future.

How Jamaicans will feel about having him back is another question. Jamaica's RJR News reported the story Tuesday without comment.