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?