Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, this country has continued to ask for clemency for Canadians on death row in the United States. The Harper government has now abruptly announced that it will no longer continue to do so.

The case in point is that of a 50 year-old Alberta man, Ronald Smith, who was sentenced to death in Montana for the deaths of two aboriginal men in 1982.

The abrupt reversal by the Harper government must be seen in the context that capital punishment is on its way out in much of the world. Just last week, Canada joined 71 countries at the United Nations in calling for the end of the death penalty. Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that Canada cannot extradite accused people in capital cases unless given assurance they will not be executed.

Were Canada to ask for clemency in this case, it would not be out of any great compassion for Mr. Smith. Rather, it would be a re-statement of the principle we have followed for more than 30 years — the death penalty is a barbarous punishment and should be banned. Instead the Harper government, again cozying up to the Bush regime, has signalled it wants to support capital punishment, at least in the United States.

But why in the world would we banish capital punishment in our own country, only to turn around now and support it a neighboring country? Surely this backsliding by Harper respects neither the letter nor the spirit of our laws against capital punishment? Perhaps Harper is trying to smuggle capital punishment into Canada through the back door.

Should Canada continue its long-standing policy of interceding for Canadian citizens on death row in the United States?



  1. 1
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Of course we should continue the policy. However with George W. Stephen Harper at the helm, we probably will keep on following the US flow.

  2. 2
    Chimera Says:

    I’ve been discussing this on other blogs for what seems like weeks. It’s only been two days.

    The Canadian government’s official stand is against capital punishment. This does not reflect the opinions of all Canadians.

    But even if it were the view of all Canadians, we can only officially take that stand in Canada. We have no authority to interfere in the administration of the laws in another country, let alone its individual states.

    Montana is a death penalty state. This is not a hidden fact — it’s out there for everyone to know. No surprises, folks. Ignorace is no excuse.

    Smith tortured and killed — then admitted it — two men in Montana. He wasn’t just found there; he committed the crime there.

    Canadian citizenship should not be a shield behind which criminals can hide in order to escape justice in another country/state. And while the Canadian version of « justice » (what’s left of it, anyway) is markedly different from the Montana version, he did the crime in Montana, not Canada.

    There is no doubt that he killed those men. After he tortured them. He admitted it. He still admits it. Why are people so bent on arguing against the obvious?

    I wish people would stop trying to equate the refusal to interfere in this case with wholesale support of the death penalty. If there were an doubt at all, go ahead and lobby for commutation. But where there is no doubt, let the law complete its mandate.

    I see no useful purpose in spending time and money to « protest » what will be ignored. I would much prefer the time and money be spent in an education for all Canadian citizens that tells them to commit crimes outside our boundaries at their own risk!

  3. 3
    SUZANNE Says:

    I think it’s a terrible idea. We should be trying to protect our citizens’ lives, even if they’re guilty.

  4. 4

    The issue is not whether Mr. Smith tortured and killed those people. He did. The issue is whether a Canadian citizen, even in another jurisdiction, should be subjected to a barbaric punishment that 95 per cent of the civilized world finds repugnant. Canada is not trying to change the American system. We are trying – or should be trying – to protect one of our own citizens from a savage penalty that even the U.S. Supreme Court is now having second thoughts about having just suspended all executions. Why in the world would we reject capital punishment in our own country, only to turn around and cheer it on south of the border.

  5. 5
    Chimera Says:

    Neil, I’m going to repeat myself: « I wish people would stop trying to equate the refusal to interfere in this case with wholesale support of the death penalty. »

    I’m not cheering it on. This is not a sporting event.

    I am acknowledging the right of the government of Montana to administer its own justice in a crystal clear case of capital murder.

    What’s so hard to understand?

  6. 6
    Chimera Says:

    Neil, I’m going to repeat myself: « I wish people would stop trying to equate the refusal to interfere in this case with wholesale support of the death penalty. »

    I’m not cheering it on. This is not a sporting event.

    I am acknowledging the right of the government of Montana to administer its own justice in a crystal clear case of capital murder.

    Canadian citizenship does not carry with it an imunity to the laws and penalties of another jurisdiction.

    What’s so hard to understand?

  7. 7
    Chimera Says:

    Oops. Double posted. The second one (with the additional comment) is the one I intended to publish…

  8. 8
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    I don’t generally support the death penalty (although there are times when I would like to be able to opt in–Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton etc.). Canada is an independent country and we can set our own policies. We have a legal system and a clearly laid out code of law with the punishments clearly laid out as well. So does the United States. In many ways our legal systems are similar.

    When one travels to a foreign country, one assumes the risk of being caught up in their legal system. This individual clearly committed a crime in Montana–a death penalty state. Apparently he was convicted fairly–there is no evidence or cry that his trial was not fair. Therefore, he is to face the penalty that was assigned to him. If there was evidence that human rights were being ignored or not granted, or that the system was corrupt like it is in some countries, I could see the government stepping in. Yes, I know some of you will say that killing someone infringes on his human rights and I do acknowledge that you do have a point.

    I guess my point is that he committed the crime, he did so in a region of the world that still supports the death penalty and was tried fairly under standards similar to those here. So, the Canadian government should not step in. I also have difficulty with Canada spending vast sums on fighting extradition to countries with the death penalty because a killer has chosen to hide out here.

    Canadian citizenship is something to be respected, not to be used as a shield when you choose to commit crimes in another country.

    And yes, I am a little back and forth on this but in this case and in this circumstance, the government should stay out of it.

  9. 9


    You make a very good case (as indeed does Chimera). My own position transcends the law and goes to a supra-national level where I believe capital punishment should be fought however and wherever it manifests itself. The principle itself – not taking another’s life in cold blood – cannot be confined by borders.

  10. 10
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    I do agree with you Neil

  11. 11
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    Neil, I do suppose there can be another level. This is an area fraught with shades of grey!

  12. 12
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    The death penalty is the application of the old principle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Christianity has been fighting this principle for centuries, excepting a few excesses such as the Inquisition, and a few others. I had hoped the 21st century would bring some changes…
    You are either dead or alive. I fail to see shades of grey in this dichotomy. If kill and be killed is the running standard…well i’m going of the both killing standards.

  13. 13
    John Says:

    I wonder if there has ever been a case in the U.S. where the death penalty was legally mandated and applicable, but waived because the individual involved was a Canadian.

    Seeking clemency for one who has obviously messed up under clearly defined conditions may make a philosophical statement, but I don’t know that it’s a very effective one.

    I am opposed to capital punishment on all levels, but, like Chimera, I think there may be more effective ways for Canada to make its point.

  14. 14

    I wish I knew the answer to your excellent question but I don’t. On the question of being effective I think every little bit of publicity on abolishing the death penalty south of the border helps. As it is, I think many states are moving away from it.

  15. 15
    K. Bandell Says:

    I aman American citizen who is unequivocally opposed to capital punishment. I am not alone. As a community, American abolitionists have alluded to our neighbours to the north and and to mcuh of the south as models of how our nation should in reference to the issue behave. Canadians are not only by American regarded with affection but also as individuals whose human rights records are generally consistent with stated principles. Please do not change.

    Ronald Smith is as entitled to life as his victims were to theirs. He can remain confined and contained in a manner which is simultaneously respectful of communal aspirations for justice and for safety. Mr. Harper is not only betraying obligations toward Mr. Smith but also to the nation for whom he speaks.

  16. 16

    K. Bandell:
    Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s my reading that your country is gradually moving away from the death penalty and up here we all cheer you on in that direction.

  17. 17

    To Whom It May Concern: I have a story that I would like to sell. It involves the death penalty, a psychiatric nurse and an execution team member at Ohio’s maximum security prison also known as the Death House. It involves what people said and did before being put to death. It also involves a botched execution creating long and unusual torture of a condemned man. I am in hasting to maximize the sell of this information as the Supreme Court’s date approaches. Execution team members have been issued there acknowledgement of the suit. At this time it appears from a source that the states intentions are to have the team members step down. There are many public eye opening events that I believe that the public would be fascinated to know! If possible that you can help my partner and I please let me know, and answer an age old question i.e. should we have a death penalty?

    Thank you for your time,

    William Prichard BBA

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