Not anti-death, now?

Our Minister of Public Safety doesn’t mind if Montana kills a Canadian

The most delicate way to put it is that Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day is not anti-death. Neither is his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Both men have claimed that to intervene on behalf of a Canadian citizen sentenced to death in Montana would “send the wrong message.”

The message that they would prefer to send, it seems, is that “Canada’s New Government” favours capital punishment.


Capital punishment, in its equation of justice and death, is at best an indecent perversion and a blot on the character of any society that chooses to keep it as an option. At worst, it is a tool of terror and control wielded by the vilest of tyrants. Its very existence cleaves the world in two: on one side stand those who favour it in some way, however small; on the other stand those who know a bad thing when they see it.

A small step that goes all the way

There is false nuance in Mr. Day’s statement that his indifference extends only to “murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law.” If Mr. Day says that Good Guy countries are qualified to kill Canadians, it becomes diplomatically difficult for the government to argue against an execution in any country without implicitly insulting its government. He has effectively reduced our capacity to stick up for Canadian citizens around the world — and when it comes to capital punishment, that seems to be fine with him.

Stephen Harper, meanwhile, professes a desire to stay out of the capital punishment debate in the United States. His profession is disingenuous. He has made us a participant; he has said that Canada doesn’t mind.

No faith in the Canadian way

What if Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper are correct, and any intervention in this case will lead to the repatriation of a convicted murderer? This is not a problem. We have plenty of criminals locked up in this country, and it is appropriate that Canada take responsibility for punishing a citizen. Montana has borne that burden long enough, and their law values his life less than ours does.

But the affronts to Canadian principles and institutions continue: we cannot bring a murderer home, says Stockwell Day, because “we want to preserve public safety here in Canada.” The Minister of Public Safety doubts the Canadian justice system’s ability to keep us safe from one man. The American system, death penalty and all, is apparently better.

Law & Order

Our government has a duty to look out for the rights of Canadian citizens, and that duty must extend at least to speaking up in favour of a Canadian facing execution. A desire to shirk that duty makes it look like the Conservative party’s elite isn’t really interested in doing the hard work of being the government, and, worse, it betrays a careless disregard for human life. It is their job and within their power to defend the basic right of a Canadian to stay alive, and they choose to do nothing. Behaviour like that will get an individual tried for criminal negligence; to a government, it must bring a lasting shame.

While Messrs. Harper and Day would no doubt be able to avoid prosecution on such a charge, it could only be on the grounds that they are not, strictly speaking, required by law to ask the State of Montana not to execute Ronald Allen Smith. And is there anything law-and-order types like less than a killer who escapes punishment on a technicality?