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Saturday, October 16, 1999The national jury ought to be concerned
Is the system punching Amina Chaudhary's ticket to ride?
For the jurors now hearing the judicial review of Amina Chaudhary's life sentence in a Toronto courtroom, there is only one issue: Should the convicted childkiller be allowed to apply for parole before her 25-year minimum term is served?
This is what the process is all about -- whether or not murderers, using Section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada, can demonstrate they deserve a chance to persuade the National Parole Board they shouldn't have to do their full sentences.
The section is controversial in and of itself, largely because it appears to make a mockery of sentencing. Canadians already know that life may not mean life, but what Section 745 does is make it abundantly clear that when a judge pronounces the chilling words, "You are hereby sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years," it ain't necessarily so, on either front.
Still, that's what's before the Chaudhary jurors, and has been now for more than a week.
What is, properly, not before them is a federal policy issue that arguably might truly enrage their countrymen. It is this: How on earth did this woman end up conceiving while behind bars three children by another convicted murderer who was then being held in a nearby men's prison in Kingston?
Anees (Charlie) Chaudhary, now 35, was in jail, originally serving a sentence for first-degree murder which was later reduced, by the Ontario Court of Appeal, to second-degree.
Though Chaudhary's lawyers had argued the original jury had improperly heard of a taped conversation between Chaudhary and two others, including one of his co-accused, in which Chaudhary said he had killed three times, the court ruled that evidence was fairly admissible, but overturned the conviction on the grounds that the jury had been misdirected about Chaudhary's planning and deliberation.
Still, in setting aside the first-degree conviction, the court noted that Chaudhary had tried to blame the killing on another man, described it as "a very cold-blooded execution," and sentenced him to life with no parole for 14 years.
Amina Chaudhary, about the same time, had been sentenced to life with no parole for 25 years in the 1982 slaying of eight-year-old Rajesh Gupta, the nephew of her then-lover, who had incurred her wrath by sneaking back to their native India and marrying someone else. She had also appealed her conviction, unsuccessfully, for strangling the little boy to death.
The two had known one another a little before their respective convictions, and, once in jail, began corresponding.
Faster than you can say Jack the bear, they were demanding, and getting, the conjugal visits, usually in the so-called "Little House" at the Prison for Women, which are an inalienable right of offenders in Canadian prisons -- unless, that is, the authorities have reason to suspect that the man, God forbid, may be a wife-batterer, in which case, offenders may be denied, but are first offered counselling.
There were no such prohibitions for the Chaudharys, though, amusingly, correctional officials were mighty careful to make sure the Missus wouldn't be in any danger of abuse from Mister, formally noting in a remarkable display of bureaucratic ass-covering, before approving some of their visits, that there were no ding-dang concerns about domestic abuse in their case, no sir.
Nor were they required to use birth control (though Mrs. Chaudhary last week testified that they did, for a time, before deciding they wanted a child, at which point she saw a prison nurse of her own "colour and culture," with whom she felt comfortable, and then it was full speed ahead with their little breeding program).
Within five years, she gave birth to three children, all still under the age of six, all still in her legal custody but being raised by a friend of hers in Sudbury, Ont. The Chaudharys -- he is now out on full parole, and living in Toronto, she is staying at an old stone house in Kingston that is a minimum-security facility and where the back door is always unlocked -- continue to receive private family visits, for which the children are brought down from Sudbury.
The system, which in an exercise of ludicrous political correctness so fretted about Mrs. Chaudhary's safety with her husband, has no concerns about leaving three young children alone, for days at a time, in the custody of two convicted murderers, one of them a childkiller.
Nor has anyone in authority demonstrated even a whit of concern for the long-term well-being of children who were, with the hearty endorsement and full knowledge of their federal government, born doomed to spend at least a good part of their lives -- and certainly, the most critical portion -- without their parents.
Most gratingly, perhaps, is the fact that Mrs. Chaudhary -- an elegant, articulate woman with a cat's smile of such patronizing smugness that it was all I could do, while watching her testify, not to leap into the witness box and slap her hard across her pretty face -- is now using those same children as what she hopes will be her ticket to ride.
The parole eligibility file prepared for her judicial review is chock-a-block with official praise for her remarkable parenting skills, her love and devotion to her children, all of it lending at least tacit support for her application to get out of jail early. The Correctional Service of Canada aided and abetted her in having those children; now its flaccid minions and handmaidens are aiding and abetting her in using them as a lever to get out of prison.
That's not the issue before the jurors.
But it sure as hell ought to be the one before the taxpayers and the voters.
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