British Columbia - A Deep Cove woman who faces a minimum 10-year U.S. prison sentence for allegedly moving and watering marijuana plants at a Bel Air, California residence eight years ago, is appealing an extradition order from the U.S government.
"I face something that's incredibly scary, " says Renee Boje. "It's been devastating for me. It's caused a great deal of stress in my life. I feel I don't need to be persecuted in this way.
On July 29, 1997 Boje, a recent graduate from Marymount University, was working on her first freelance arts project illustrating a book called, How to Grow Medical Marijuana.
She claims both the author, Peter McWilliams, and publisher, Todd McCormick who were inflicted with terminal illnesses, had legal prescriptions from the State of California to use marijuana for medical purposes.
"[The police] wanted me to give incriminating evidence against them," Boje said. "They threatened me with a 10-year mandatory sentence and said I could get up to life.
In her submissions to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Boje, who has no prior involvement with the police, claims she was verbally and physically assaulted by U.S. police and corrections officials who she said strip-searched her approximately 15 times.
American authorities report they arrested Boje at 5:30 p.m. that day back in 1997, detaining her at a nearby fire station before taking her to Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters, where standard procedure is to strip-search women in a windowless room if a female agent is available. Boje was later taken to the Metropolitan Detention Centre adjacent to the DEA office at 3:15 a.m. where she was strip-searched by a guard of the same gender in a room with a six-inch square window. At 7:23 a.m. that same morning Boje was taken by the DEA to a nearby courthouse where she was locked up pending a court appearance before a federal judge. Once bail was set, she was again taken to the Metropolitan Detention Centre, which required her to be strip-searched by a female guard in a private area.
After making bail, Boje sought the advice of a lawyer who said, 'if you were my daughter, I would tell you to leave the country.'"
Taking her lawyer's advice, Boje moved to Vancouver in 1998. A year later, the BC Supreme Court ordered her to surrender to U.S. authorities. Boje appealed the decision and her case sat in the Minister of Justice's office for five years.
"I had to move on with my life," Boje told The North Shore Outlook Monday. "I couldn't put my life on hold because of this issue. While living in Vancouver, Boje met Cannabis activist Chris Bennett, whom she married. Now a wife and mother of a three-year-old Canadian son, Boje resides in Deep Cove and runs the Urban Shaman, an herbal store in Vancouver.
"After I gave birth to my son it changed everything," Boje said. "I have nightmares of being separated from him. It would have a severe impact on his overall well-being. I would like to just put this behind me.
"I'm a peaceful woman. I feel like I've done nothing wrong.
But on June 15 of this year, Irwin Cotler, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, signed the warrants ordering the surrender of Boje to the U.S. to stand trial.
In his decision, Cotler declined to refuse Boje's surrender on the basis that it would be unjust or oppressive.
"While Ms. Boje's personal circumstances are factors I have considered, they must be weighed against Canada's international commitments," Cotler stated in his decision. "Her circumstances are not uncommon. It cannot be said, in this particular case that Ms. Boje would face a situation that is sufficiently shocking to the Canadian conscience to render her surrender simply unacceptable.
If convicted, Cotler said Boje's sentence would not be out of proportion with the punishment she would receive for an equivalent Canadian offence, noting the penalty for producing cannabis in Canada is seven years imprisonment.
Boje's lawyer, John Conroy, has applied to the Court of Appeals and is waiting to see if her case will be accepted. Meanwhile, the U.S. is fast-tracking Boje's extradition, leaving her with less than a year to have the case heard if it is accepted.
"It's just so surreal really," Boje said. "I feel like Canada's my home and where I belong and I'm praying the Court of Appeals will show me some compassion.
In an attempt to protest people being persecuted around the world for association with Cannabis, Boje has organized a rally for Sept. 3 at the Vancouver Art Gallery called "Stop the Weed Witchhunts.
Among the speakers attending is BC Marijuana Party leader Marc Emery, who himself currently faces life in prison under a U.S. extradition order for allegedly mailing marijuana seeds across the border.
"I'm trying to bring attention to the fact that there's a lot of women and men being persecuted because of their association with cannabis, which in my opinion is a sacred and healing herb," Boje said. "It's a serious sovereignty issue."
The "Stop the Weed Witchhunts" rally will take place at the art gallery from 2 to 5 p.m. and will finish with a march to the Indonesian Consulate.