Bedard guilty of child abduction

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Myriam Bédard's eyes were fixed on the jury foreman, her face impassive as the guilty verdict was pronounced convicting the Olympic gold medalist on the charge of abducting her daughter in violation of a custody order.

On the third day of deliberations, the six women and six men of the jury concluded that Ms. Bédard was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of kidnapping her then-11-year-old daughter and taking her to the United States last fall with the criminal intent of depriving the father, her ex-husband Jean Paquet, of his custody rights.

Mr. Justice Jean-Claude Beaulieu of Quebec Superior Court set Oct. 9 for the sentencing hearing where Ms. Bédard's lawyer, John Pepper Jr., stunned by the verdict, said he will plead for an absolute discharge.

"We feel it appropriate to reserve our comments for the courts and prior to the next step being completed, that will be our statement for the time being. … I have nothing further to say," a disappointed Mr. Pepper told reporters Thursday.

Crown prosecutor Josée Lemieux said she will challenge the request for an unconditional discharge, but refused to say what sentence should be imposed.

"We will take into account the two weeks of provisional detention she spent in a United States jail," Ms. Lemieux said Thursday. Her comments were an indication that the Crown may request that Ms. Bédard, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail, be handed a much lighter sentence.

The three-time Olympic medal-winning biathlete was arrested near Washington, D.C., on Dec. 22, 2006, after spending 11 weeks in the United States with her daughter and common-law spouse Nima Mazhari on a campaign to denounce the "injustices" against them and "bureaucratic terrorism" in Canada.

The Bédard-Mazhari couple's odd campaign in the United States became a child-abduction case when Mr. Paquet filed a complaint with the police in late November that he did not know when his daughter would return home.

An arrest warrant was issued a few weeks later that branded Ms. Bédard an international fugitive, which led to her arrest, imprisonment and finally her extradition to Canada in early January of 2007.

Mr. Pepper tried to get the case thrown out of court, saying there was insufficient evidence to show that Ms. Bédard had the criminal intention of depriving the child's father of his custody rights. His motion was denied by Judge Beaulieu.

During the trial, Mr. Pepper said that Mr. Paquet rarely exercised his custody rights and that Ms. Bédard had every intention of returning to her home near Montreal. But the jurors rejected the defence argument that the case was one of lack of communication over the well-being of the divorced couple's daughter rather than one of kidnapping with criminal intent of violating a court order.

Judge Beaulieu grew increasingly impatient with many of the defence lawyer's arguments, including a request Thursday challenging the objectivity of one the jurors. Mr. Pepper said he learned this week that one of the jurors had failed to reveal during jury selection that he was once a policeman in Ms. Bédard's hometown of Val-Bélair, near Quebec City. But Mr. Pepper was unable to prove his allegation before Judge Beaulieu.

"Had I known he was a former police officer from Val-Bélair, I could have objected to having him on the jury," Mr. Pepper said Thursday.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Pepper's complaint about the juror's potential impartiality could be eventually included in an appeal, which could come if the request for unconditional discharge is denied.

For the time being, Ms. Bédard remains free and must abide by the conditions of her release issued last January after she posted $2,000 bail and handed over her passport. She is required to report once a week to police near her home in Longueuil and has been ordered not to leave the province.

In February, Ms. Bédard regained custody of her child in a ruling that reiterated Mr. Paquet's custodial rights.