Denise Harvey: Former Vero Beach resident Denise Harvey claims refugee status in Saskatchewan

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — Vero Beach fugitive Denise Harvey is claiming refugee status in Canada, saying the 30-year sentence she received for having sex with a 16-year-old amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment."

An hour-long private "detention review" was held Monday in Saskatoon, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, for Harvey, 45. She was released from Royal Canadian Mounted Police custody late Monday afternoon on a $5,000 bond, Harvey's lawyer Chris Veeman said.

"I think she's relieved to be out of jail," said Veeman, a Saskatoon immigration law specialist.

Harvey plans to remain with husband, Charles, at their home in Pike Lake, about 18 miles south of Saskatoon, where they have lived since fleeing Florida nearly a year ago, Veeman said.

The Harveys declined an interview request.

Harvey was convicted in 2008 on multiple counts of felony unlawful sex activity with certain minors. The charges stem from sexual encounters with her son's then-16-year-old baseball teammate and friend.

The incidents were brought forward at least in part by the team's coach. Harvey has denied the relationship ever took place, although she did not take the stand in her defense. Evidence at the trial included a taped conversation between Harvey and the victim where she says she'll "deny" everything, as well as a condom retrieved from the victim's parents' home containing her DNA.

Details of the case aside, Veeman said a 30-year sentence is grounds for a refugee claim. It's not a "classic" claim under the United Nations convention that usually pertains to political prisoners from Third World dictatorships. He acknowledged a refugee claim from an American might seem unusual, but it is valid nonetheless.

"Thirty years is too high. It's way out of whack. I think there is merit to her (refugee) claim," Veeman said.

The refugee claim could take months — or longer — to resolve. Harvey has 28 days to file her reasons for the claim and a multi-step process will follow.

The refugee claim is one of several intriguing legal possibilities the case raises. Harvey was arrested last week on the request of U.S. Marshals and Florida justice officials, who want her extradited to serve her time. But Canada does not extradite people unless the incident is a crime in both countries, according to the Department of Justice website — a principle known as "double criminality."

Having sexual relations with a 16-year-old is not against the law in Canada, unless there is a power dynamic such as teacher-student. In that case, the age of consent in Canada is 18. Although Harvey's acts would not be illegal in some states, the age of consent for all cases in Florida is 18.

Working against Harvey is the fact she came into Canada illegally a year ago. If her refugee claim is rejected, she could simply be deported.

Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson Lisa White said the Harvey case "is totally private" and declined to answer specific questions. However, she did say it is the agency's mandate "to enforce the law" and the agency will do that whenever possible. Deportation cannot take place until the merits of a refugee claim are investigated.

Department of Justice spokesperson Derrick Pieters said the department is not currently handling Harvey's case. The Justice Department would normally handle any extradition matters.

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada spokesperson Melissa Anderson also declined to discuss the specifics of the case, but said a refugee claimant is not held in custody unless it can be proven their identity is in question, they are a danger to the public, they are unlikely to appear at future hearings or they are a national security risk.

Harvey is not under curfew or electronic monitoring, but must report regularly to justice officials, Veeman said.

The Florida courts granted Harvey bail during her appeals, which failed. Last month, court officials issued a warrant for Harvey's arrest after she did not meet the conditions of her bail and did not show up to begin serving her prison sentence. She was on the Treasure Coast's Most Wanted List.

Barnett Bail Bonds would not comment on the apprehension of Harvey, whose $150,000 bail the company posted after her conviction. Officials at the State Attorney's Office could not be reached for comment.

Staff writers Lamaur Stancil and Keona Gardner contributed to this report.