Patrick Critton applies for parole, part two | Michael Crowley

By Micheal Crowley ·

Law360 Canada (May 15, 2024, 9:04 AM EDT) --
Michael Crowley
As previously noted, I grew up in central New York and attended Syracuse University during the 1960s. At that time, campuses were places of dissent about the war in Vietnam and the growth of civil rights. So, to some degree, I was fully aware of the political winds that had also captured plane hijacker Patrick Critton.

Although I was probably uniquely positioned to question him about his political beliefs and his rationale for hijacking an airplane, thereby endangering the passengers and crew, the parole board’s media relations person did not want me to reveal my background during the filming of the documentary. The concern was that it could become the story, in itself, and detract from the work of the board.

So I was tasked with being very cautious about revealing anything about my personal background but nonetheless conducting the usual inquisition of an inmate who had committed a serious crime and wanted to be released from custody.

When an inmate is facing deportation, the board has to apply its usual assessment of risk, but with the added complication of assessing risk in another country, where there will not be any supervision available, and the board cannot impose or require the individual to comply with conditions or treatment, factors that are available to anyone released into a Canadian environment. In other words, the individual has to be seen as a low or very low risk.

Throughout the hearing. Critton appeared as an engaging and interesting person. He was well-educated, very articulate and told interesting stories about his time in Cuba and Tanzania. 

We questioned him closely about his political beliefs at the time of the robbery attempt and his rationale for joining a militant organization. Clearly, he felt that militancy was his only option as he felt doing anything else would not lead to what he was looking for — equality with all other citizens.

After he fled from the robbery location, he decided to go to Cuba rather than going underground and remaining in the United States.

I asked him why, if he intended to go to Toronto, he took a bus to Thunder Bay, as it was very much in the opposite direction. He looked sheepish and said that although he was a teacher, he knew nothing about Canada and didn’t realize his mistake. 

He also said that he purposefully allowed Air Canada to let the other passengers get off in Toronto. File information indicated that he was very quiet throughout the actual hijacking. He had given a written note to a stewardess, which indicated he had both a handgun and a hand grenade. That surprised me, but then I remembered that in the late ’60s, there had not been any metal detectors at airports. He told us that the gun was real (in fact it was loaded) but the grenade was a dummy. File information also indicated that the flight crew told police and the court that he was very polite and soft-spoken and that they had never felt at risk.

Critton was surprised by his reception in Cuba and rather disappointed. When the opportunity arose, he went to Tanzania and made a life for himself there. But at the same time, he said that he felt that he was unhappy and missing home. His wife urged him to make plans to return and to face the consequences. He said that he went to the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania in order to apply for a passport, constantly expecting to be arrested once he was on American soil. But nothing happened. After more time went by, he bought a ticket to New York and flew there, again expecting to be arrested once he provided his passport. But nothing happened. He was surprised but then when he went to pick up his luggage, he saw some large men in black suits and assumed that they were police, there to arrest him. One man approached him and said, “Do you need a limo?” And so he went to his mother’s house, returned to his career as a teacher and became an asset to his community — until his arrest. 

He said he was surprised that it took so long for his arrest and that he always assumed that it would happen.

I asked him what his plans for the future were if he were deported, and he said that he would lose his teacher’s licence but that his brother would help him return to education, though not as a teacher. 

Then he said that all he wanted to do was return to his old life and lead a quiet existence — so I looked at the film crew and cameras and asked him to explain why he agreed to have a documentary done if he wanted to “disappear” back in the United States. He said, in a resigned voice, “If I had known it would be like this, I never would have started.” And I believed him.

There was an observer in the hearing room. As it turns out, my younger son was home from university and asked me what I was working on, and when I told him about the Critton case, he asked if he could observe. It was granted. Critton had observed him and asked why he was there and was simply told that he was a university history student. His response was that was a good thing — because knowing your history was so critical in his opinion.

During a break in the hearing, Critton was overheard saying to the director of the documentary that he found it so very difficult trying to explain to a Canadian (me) what it was like living in the United States in the late 1960s. 

When I heard that I did a fist pump — because I had evidently been able to adequately cover up my own history.

During the hearing, he credibly told us that he no longer held any militant views and that he did not believe in the use of violence to obtain political goals. 

Given all of the information that we had, including his spotless and even enviable record as an educator without a hint of any further involvement in militant activity for more than 30 years, we concluded that his risk, if we deported him, would not be undue. So we granted full parole for deportation.

As we left the administration building where parole hearings took place and headed for the parking lot, Critton was also leaving and heading in the same direction. I was so sorely tempted to walk over to him and let him know my background — and invite him out for a coffee. He just struck me as an interesting man with lots more to tell in an informal setting. But, of course, that did not happen. 

I understand that he has written an autobiography; perhaps I will obtain and read it in order to satisfy my curiosity about this man.

This is the second half of a two-part series. Part one: Patrick Critton applies for parole.

Michael Crowley has a BA from Syracuse University. He spent more than 40 years in various positions within the criminal justice system in Canada. Before retiring, Crowley had been a member of the Parole Board of Canada for 21 years. Contact him via

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. 

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to Law360 Canada, contact Analysis Editor Peter Carter at or call 647-776-6740.