A Quebec man scheduled to be deported to Italy Thursday after being convicted more than 20 years ago for his role in a Mafia-linked drug importation has won a reprieve, his lawyer says.
Stéphane Handfield says Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued the reprieve, which means Michele Torre can remain in Canada, at least for now.
Handfield was unable to confirm the reason or the length of the stay but said he hoped it would be similar to the two-year stay Torre was granted in 2016.
Torre, 67, was convicted in 1996 in a cocaine importation conspiracy linked to the Cotroni crime family and served part of a nearly nine-year prison sentence.
Federal authorities have sought since 2013 to remove Torre, who came to Canada more than 50 years ago, for “serious criminality and organized criminality.”
His lawyer and family have argued it is unfair to deport him so long after his last conviction, which now dates back 23 years. They say he should be able to stay because his wife has serious health problems.
Handfield said the stay of deportation came as a relief to his client. “When I spoke to him, it was very emotional, for his family too,” he said in a phone interview.
Torre was granted permanent residency after arriving from Italy in 1967 as a teen — a status that was stripped after the process to remove him began. His inadmissibility emerged years after his conviction when he applied for Canadian citizenship so he could seek a pardon and travel more easily to the United States.
He has previously disputed the assertion he was “Mafia-affiliated” or a “foot soldier” tied to that crime network. He instead said he paid the price for following orders after a bar in which he worked fell under the control of organized crime.
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In 2006, Torre again found himself swept up by police during a massive operation aimed at dismantling Montreal’s powerful Mafia. He spent nearly three years in custody but was ultimately acquitted.
The minister’s decision effectively overturns the decision of a Federal Court judge, who ruled on Tuesday against Torre’s request for a stay of the deportation order.
In refusing the request, the judge described Torre as “the author of his own misfortune” and rejected his arguments for staying in Canada, noting that his wife has nearly a dozen health professionals attending to her care and three adult children in Canada who could look after her.
It’s the second time Torre has been spared from deportation at the last minute. In 2016, he was granted a ministerial 90 minutes before his flight was set to depart.
Handfield said he is hoping “to resolve this situation once and for all” as he petitions to allow Torre to remain in Quebec permanently with his family on humanitarian grounds.