Standing idle on foreign executions: yes we can

Canadian murderer Ronald Allen Smith is entitled to the benefit of a written, objective government policy concerning his situation

by Colby Cosh

Reasonable people can disagree over whether Canadian murderer Ronald Allen Smith ought to die by poison in the state of Montana’s execution chamber. But can we please get the facts about his situation straight? The Federal Court did not unconditionally order the Canadian government to resume lobbying Montana for clemency on behalf of Smith. It is a very clear matter of law that a court can’t set foreign policy: as Justice Barnes wrote, “Decisions involving pure policy or political choices in the nature of Crown prerogatives are generally not amenable to judicial review because their subject-matter is not suitable to judicial assessment.”

What a court can review is whether there has been procedural fairness in the application of a policy, including an international-relations policy, to an individual. Barnes found that the government seemed to have changed its standing policy concerning clemency advocacy with suspicious, unjustifiable casualness. Ministers had sketched or even improvised an apparent new stance in press interviews, and on the floor of the Commons, but there was no evidence of any actual legislative activity behind the scenes accompanying this—there were, for example, no written directives to the diplomatic corps outlining the “new policy”, and certainly no warnings made to Smith and his lawyers.

Smith, as a Canadian citizen, does not enjoy any inherent permanent right to Canadian government assistance with a clemency application, but he is entitled to the benefit of a written, objective government policy concerning his situation. The government didn’t give him that; the choice it was presented with by the Federal Court was to either resume clemency lobbying or to explicitly frame a new policy and apply it fairly. Canadian governments are still free to behave as they like concerning Canadians facing execution abroad, as long as their behaviour is consistent with some guideline. That guideline now exists, and it implies that the answer to a request for future help may well be “Sorry, no.”

The policy is not being applied retroactively to Smith, who is again receiving consular assistance. But we are no longer a formally “abolitionist” state when it comes to capital punishment abroad. If you care about this issue, or you just have an itch to head south and randomly slaughter a couple of Americans, it’s important for you to understand that judges can’t make the identity of the government irrelevant in this respect. A vote for the Conservatives really is a vote for Conservative foreign policy.




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Standing idle on foreign executions: yes we can

  1. Smith – Committed a crime in a state that has capital punishment. WHY we continue to debate the penalty and it's application let alone what the "CANADIAN GOVERNMENT" can do is moot. He is outside Canadian jurisdiction and on his own – appropriately. I continue to be amazed at the idea the our laws, limp as they are, apply in other countries. His death sentence… Yawn… is just that…His Death Sentence… He did the crime… In the US… Too Bad..So Sad… Not..

    • Would you say the same thing about a man being executed for kissing another man in Saudi Arabia?

      Slightly different, I guess, because we disagree with them on both the crime and the punishment.

      But what about cutting off someone's hands for stealing? Or stoning someone to death in Iran for revealing government secrets?

      No one is saying that our laws should be imposed on the US. I think only the US and the UK take the view that their laws should apply outside their jurisdiction.

      What is at issue is that a Canadian citizen is abroad and facing a punishment we consider cruel and unusual. We should be lobbying for clemency on this punishment, not all punishment.

      • You're looking at this in precisely the wrong direction: the proper comparison isn't "what about some country with tougher laws" but "what about if some country decided our laws were too tough and campaigned against them"?

        • And that would be their right. It would annoy us but they would be within their rights to lobby on behalf of any citizen of theirs that we were sentencing.

  2. I`m not sure if your familiar with much of the traffic on this site Colby, but the first word of your blog seems to be rather presumptuous.

    A reasonable person would show their compassion for the victims of this criminal and allow the good people of the jurisdiction where the crime was committed to carry on with justice regardless of the citizenship of the convicted.

    Unreasonable people show little regard for the victims of the crime by mulling over why the convicted became a criminal and hoping to score some anti Harper points because he refuses to get involved in another democratic nation`s system of justice.

    • Of course, the above does not apply to Muslim countries. I'm sure you just forgot to mention that.

      • Which of the Muslim democracies did you have in mind ?

        The reply you offered by comparing the system of justice in many Muslim countries with those in Canada and USA is an excellent example of the unreasonable position so popular here.

        • SMACKDOWN DELUXE of the butthead!!
          Well done!

          • Apparently not Gary, otherwise why would said butthead be scoring in the plusses and my humble retorts are consistently rated poorly by the fair-minded judges present here.

          • A reasonable person wouldn't worry about stuff like that.

          • ……not worried——-but can`t I have a little fun with your silly scoring system ?

          • (shrugs) It's not my silly system, have all the fun you want. I was responding to what you typed, not to what you kept in your head.

          • Blue, I'm thinking that most posters here should share that Avatar!
            The minuses from this lot is a badge of honour IMHO!

    • REad the entire sentence then. Until you understand it.

      • Mikey—-I understood it at first reading—-because of your inability to be reasonable, you on the other hand could read it 100 times and still not understand.

        • Then I shall speak slowly: the issue is not whether he should be punished, the issue is whether he should be subject to the death penalty.

          • No, the isssue is whether the Canadian Gov`t has the obligation or even the right to pressure another sovereign democratic nation into following our method of justice on a crime committed in that sovereign state.

            The obligation of the Canadian Gov`t is not to lobby for clemency for Smith so that he would not be "subject to the death penalty " as you say, but rather to set a policy in regards to how convicted murderers who happen to be Canadian are treated by the Canadian Gov`t while abroad.

          • I direct you once again to the part where I instruct you to read the entire first sentence again.

          • Go instruct yourself.

          • Correct. And, believe it or not, many reasonable Canadians believe he should.

          • I believe it and I don't think they're crazy for believing it, although I disagree with them.

          • You're not getting it, Mike. Blue has declared that it's unreasonable to be against the death penalty. End of discussion.

    • Not exactly.

      Certainly, there's a case to be made for no interference when a Canadian is sentenced to death in a foreign country if there's a legitimate judicial system there. As many of those points have been made in this thread already, I'll leave that argument alone.

      However, domestically Canada has decided – over the years – that capital punishment is not an appropriate sentence. From that, it doesn't take much of a leap to reach the notion that Canadian citizens, at least in the eyes of Canada, should not be subject to capital punishment, and that the government should make reasonable efforts to prevent such a sentence from being carried out.

      What side you fall on is probably less important than realizing there's merit to both arguments.

      • Whoops, accidentally voted you down Jon, but I think you make an excellent point.

      • Here`s what I see in Colby`s post—–

        A Canadian who is convicted of murder first degree in Canada today can be certain that he will never face the death penalty.

        A Canadian who is convicted of murder first degree in a foreign country where the death penalty is law may apply for the Canadian Gov`t to intervene strenuously to pressure that foreign country for clemency on his behalf, but depending on the interpretation of the circumstances of his case by the Canadian Gov`t, he should not be certain that he will not face the death penalty.

    • Very well said.

      And also 100% correct.

  3. So, any Canadian about to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia or stoned to death in Iran is on his/her own.

    Good to know.

    • Ya, because we know that A) what constitutes a crime in those backwards countries is reasonable and B) that their justice systems are anywhere near comparable to ours.

      Thanks for playing.

      • Oh, so tourists or students or employees abroad have to pick and choose what crimes they might be accused of, but innocent or guilty, they're on their own.

        It's not me that's 'playing'.

        • No – tourists or students should choose carefully where they travel. If an illegitimate system imprisons/threatens them unjustly, of course our government should come to their aid. If they commit murder in a system governed by the rule of law, then our government does not have such an obligation.

          • And the PM of the day gets to decide on what is and what isn't an 'illegitimate' system?

            You might want to rethink that.

          • I think we DO want our elected representatives to make this distinctions. You may agree with how Harper goes about this, but we always have the option of voting him out. I for one would prefer a PM that sees a difference between most Western legal systems and places like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

          • *should read "you may DISAGREE"

          • Well Harper won't always be there….eventually we'll have a Liberal PM again, so your life would be in his hands…and judgement again. Sound good now?

            But even if you travelled to Beijing this year…..Harper who hated China a mere couple of years back, is now swearing eternal friendship…..so would you get help or not?

            You can't leave it up to the PM to make these decisions based on his 'morality' or mood of the moment.

            We need one standard.

          • We may need a standard that makes distinctions – we don't need "one standard" that assumes all forms of justice and all systems of justice are equally legitimate.

          • Yes, we do.

            Each country is sovereign….and regard their own justice systems as legal and legitimate, whether we think so or not. Plus what with riots, revolutions, govt changes and so on, they are all subject to change from good to bad, or bad to good. Or good some ways, but not in others.

            Plus…if we learned anything from the fiasco at the UN, it's that countries don't operate out of friendship, they operate out of their own self-interest. India and Israel are both democracies, and have a 'rule of law'…..but should the next PM say anything about helping Palestinians, or India should do something about it's border problems….they could easily decide to make a big issue out of a minor traffic violation…..or 'see' the Canadian talking to someone they regard as an enemy…..and voila, the Canadian is facing trumped-up charges and may never be seen again.

            That's precisely why we need to have one response to all of them

          • In your example what good would the government's lobbying do?

          • Time for the Queen step in and say somthing about this her answer is final whether good or bad

      • When you pick and choose which countries' justice systems to respect, you're automatically handicapping yourself when it comes to helping innocents everywhere. When you condemn Iran for executing someone, while excusing the US for doing the same, you think Iran isn't going to notice the double standard? You think you're not going to insult them? And if you ask "Who cares what Iran thinks?" remember that they're the ones who are about to execute somebody. It doesn't matter what they think. All that matters is helping that person. You can't do that by insulting their would-be executioner.

        • I'm sorry, but we can't place a moral equivalence on executing someone who's committed a vicious double murder, and Iran stoning a women for committing adultery… Let's pretend to have some brains and actually be able to make distinctions. Iran complaining about "double standards" isn't a reason to not act with some principle.

        • Exactly. The same thinking should apply here as it does with diplomatic immunity.

          We either help all our citizens abroad if they're in trouble, or we help none of them. We can't pick and choose as to which countries we currently trust or regard as evil.

          There are, at the moment, 2.5 million Canadians living and working abroad…..thousands of them in the ME working in the oil fields….are they disposable or savable depending on whether we like the country today or not?

    • It's odd, but once upon a time passports did indeed come with a handy information packet reminding its holder that in foreign countries, as a practical matter, you're on your own when it comes to the consequences of breaking local laws.

    • Emily, given that you are a far leftist, I can truly understand your failure to draw a distinction between justice based on the rule of law at the hands of an established democracy, and a summary execution at the hands of a totalitarian/not democratic regime.

      The rest of us will continue to debate this matter on the presumption that the two are very different.

      • Chet given that you are of the far right I can truly understand your failure to draw a distinction between justice as practiced by a country that claims to be democratic: rendition, torture holding without trial. suspending habeus corpus, ignoring laws that are designed to prevent intrusion into folk's private lives etc. And one that actually values its democratic values.
        The more of these values that are lost, the more we become like Iran. In fact over the last ten years I have seen the USA move closer to those "not democratic regimes," you rightly disparage than the democracies you hold it up to be. It started with an election decided in a court room after a real count of the votes was ruled out.
        Canada is moving that way as the excesses of the G20 summit illustrate.

    • Sounds like the Australians are getting the worst end the stick here too finding drugs in their luggage then being accused for possession for illegal drugs when there placed in his luggage why does It all way happen to a country who doesn't have the death penalty to be give right to live and sentenced in their own country; Looks like the world is going nuts. I think time look our back yards instead of worrying about other counties policy's this shows a strong e.g of Justice going wrong when only get payed in their country with issues like this; By right he should have being sentenced in his own country.

  4. It seems reasonable to me that since our laws and constitution reflect a distaste for absolutes like the death penalty, that at the very least we should ask them for convert his sentence to "life" in prison with no chance of parole.

    It doesn't mean they'll listen, but given the number of false convictions for murder that have surfaced over the past few years, I would think it prudent if we're really concerned about justice and not just revenge.

    • I agree that false convictions are a legitimate worry. That aside, point to the provision in Canada's Constitution that prohibits the death penalty. There is none. The closest we have is the Charter provision against cruel and unusual punishment – whether capital punishment is cruel is a subjective moral disagreement, whether it is unusual depends on whether we choose to use it or not.

      • Well let me put it this way.

        We've jammed every possible right one can imagine into the constitution, including the right of a transgender german sheppard to act as a guide dog if I don't miss my guess, so if the right to LIFE isn't one of them I'd be utterly shocked.

        It's one thing to segregate the crazies and make them live like cloistered monks somewhere far from civil society, it's another thing entirely to put them down like an horse with a broken leg, especially given our lousy track record for convicting poor, ignorant but innocent saps.

        • JUDGES may have interpreted the constitution to assume all sorts of different rights are there – but that doesn't mean they're right. More importantly, no Charter rights are "absolute" – it says so right there in section ONE.

          • As the third pillar of government, the judicial body are essentially the only ones who interpret the constitution in this manner, so of course their rulings are "right" even if only "right now".

            But that's the benefit of a constitution in principle, as society changes it can revisit decisions without constant ammendement to the source document.

            But I have to come back to my earlier point, if we have all these lesser rights, how can the right to live not be among them?

            Seems like one of those really basic rights to me, but then obviously I'm against capital punishment.

            And again, I was clear that the Constitution eschews "absolutes" entirely, so on that we agree.

          • It is, however, the current state of the law, and no less legitimate for being interpreted rather than explicit.

  5. These bleeding hearts who are concerned with constitutional ramifications and rights of this murderer takes out the most important part of this equation. What about the rights of those poor souls he slaughtered mercilessly and the never ending pain of their family and friends.
    On yeah we are such kind hearted nationals that our concern about this poor killer that the laws of another sovereign state must be ignored. The laws of the United States is lesser in its merciful dispensation for criminals, so lets spend our tax dollars to prove we have a a more civilized approach to those who rob others of their lives.
    Hang him from the highest rafter they can find.

    • Or, we abhor his actions to such a great extent that we feel it imperitive to call upon our closest ally to punish the offender without stooping to his horrible level.

    • Teresa Lewis pimped her 16 year old daughter to a criminal in an effort to get him to kill her husband. She let the murderers into the house, then they did just that – shooting the guy in bed with bird shot and leaving him screaming for nearly an hour in agony while she stood around waiting for him to die. Then they went into his 20 year old son's room and shot him dead with a pistol. Before the crime was committed she arranged the insurance in just such a way that she'd be the beneficiary. She was not mentally retarded. This graduate of nursing school was found to be not performing at her best during the IQ testing.

      I think pimping her child out to violent criminals was enough to earn her a death sentence, but that's just me. Her crime was horrible. She was an unspeakably atrocious woman.

      • Would you point me in the direction of the reference to Ms. Lewis being a graduate of a nursing school. Despite lengthy efforts to find anything that refers to her having a nursing diploma (other than comments following mainstream media stories) I have been unable to verify that part of the story.

        • I had to do a search of my browser history, because I read this awhile ago. But here it is.
          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AZLibDem/ter

          And – http://www.lexisone.com/lx1/caselaw/freecaselaw?a

          And by the way, I'm not a bloodthirsty sort. I just think the anti death penalty movement is guilty of stretching the truth in so many cases, and it's got to be painful for the loved ones of the victims when they do that. This woman was a real horror show!!!

          • Thanks. The Lexisone item referred to made for very interesting reading and was definitely not covered by the MSM.

          • Of course it wasn't.

            The MSM whitewashes inconvenient facts that don't fit their agenda based narrative,

            all the time.

            And thank you for keeping an open mind on the subject. Others here appear much less willing to accept basic facts that contradict their worldview.

  6. Fair comment here lets stop people get the execution chamber in foreign country its wrong in this country Australia we are not sheep for one thing and stop barbasic order to the human society before to long we all end up in the chiller.

  7. So many of the comments address Canada picking and choosing whose countries' judicial systems are worthy of our respect (and therefore our intervention, or lack thereof). I would suggest that our policy must assess the crime and its accompanying punishment, regardless of the country in which the crime is committed – for example, a Canadian woman having an affair with a married man and a Canadian serial killer could be subject to the same fate in Iran. Assuming each was guilty of the crime, most would feel the former would be worthy of our intervention, but not the latter.

  8. The death penalty is cruel and unusual and most civilized Countries have abolished it. State sanctioned killing is no better than murder. It clearly condones killing. Wrongful convictions aside it is clearly a an act of revenge and you should perhaps seek counseling if that is your perspective. Convictions should be about punishment and rehabilitation.

    • "State sanctioned killing is no better than murder. It clearly condones killing."

      And fines clearly condone taking other people's money. Jail sentences clearly condone locking people up against their will. Community service clearly condones forcing people to work without pay. What's your point?

    • I don't think execution is necessarily wrong as some people clearly cannot be rehabilitated, but it is impractical and probably shouldn't be used for that reason if nothing else. I don't have enough money to pay for counseling though Gary so I guess I'll have to suffer with the mental disorder of having a different opinion.

      Although you have to wonder which is really crueler: being executed or being stuck in jail for the rest of your life.

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