Let killer face music in U.S.


Wed, November 7, 2007

What on Earth is all the fuss about?

Here we have one nasty Canadian murderer slated for execution in Montana and there's outrage by some that the Canadian government won't ask for clemency.

Traditionally, Canada always seeks clemency, or commutation to life in prison, for citizens sentenced to death in foreign countries.

In the case of Ron Smith, who's been on death row in Montana for over 25 years, the government is not seeking clemency -- nor will it in future cases of Canadians sentenced to death after a fair trial in countries we define as democratic.

Granted, this is a switch from past policy, but who are we to dictate what other countries should do, so long as these countries abide by democratic values that we do?

The outrage in the case of Alberta-born Ron Smith, is that he's still alive, that the death sentence wasn't carried out long ago. After 25 years, he is a different person today than he was in 1982 when he murdered two young Blackfeet men who generously (foolishly) picked him up when he was hitchhiking.

Harvey Mad Man was 20, Tom Running Rabbit, 22. Smith decided he'd steal their car. So at the point of a .22-calibre rifle he marched them into the woods, shot one in the back, stabbed and shot the other in the head.

He later said he wanted to know what it felt like to kill a human.

Well, now he knows.

And if he loses his present appeal, then loses at the Supreme Court level, then has his appeal for clemency to the governor rejected, well, he'll then know what it feels like to get a lethal injection.

Smith's lawyer and others urge he be returned to Canada to serve the remainder of a life sentence, which is nuts. Initially, when sentenced in 1983, Smith rejected a life sentence and asked for the death penalty -- because he was depressed and lonely, his lawyer now says.

He's since changed his mind, so far to no avail.

Former justice minister Irwin Cotler is "shocked" at the government's decision and thinks it indicates Tories support capital punishment. He wonders if extraditing murderers for execution will be next.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and the NDP's Jack Layton also think the Tories would like to reinstate capital punishment if they had a majority -- something the Tories vigorously deny.

They simply won't interfere in the justice system of a fellow democracy.

Eddie Greenspan, arguably Canada's top criminal lawyer, makes a valid point when he says that "as a country opposed to the death penalty, Canada has a duty to protest it being applied to any citizen, anywhere."

What Greenspan doesn't support is sending Smith back to Canada to serve a life sentence in a Canadian prison. "I have no argument to him serving his sentence in an American prison. What we should object to is the death penalty," he says.

Smith is the only Canadian on death row in the U.S.

When another Canadian was slated for execution in Texas in 1999 (Stanley Faulder, convicted in 1977 of murdering an elderly woman in 1975), the government's appeal to then-Texas governor George Bush fell on deaf ears.

An 11th-hour appeal by foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy went nowhere. Faulder was executed. And that was the end of it -- no strained diplomatic relations, no further comment.

As with Smith, Faulder underwent some 22 years of appeals and postponements before the sentence was carried out. Again, that is wrong and smacks of injustice.

What concerns no one is the effect on the Blackfoot reservation where the two murdered young men lived.

The community was devastated. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently met friends, family and band members who urged justice be done for the two "loving, caring young men with bright futures ahead of them."

The Blackfeet say returning Smith to Canada to serve his sentence would be "a slap in the face to this community and a dagger to the heart."

Schweitzer's response: "I am governor of Montana, not the governor of Alberta ... I have sworn to uphold the laws of Montana."

Not encouraging for Ron Smith, but it's hard to dispute the feelings of the Indians, or the response of the governor.