Only Canadian on death row accuses government of ‘lukewarm’ support

Nadine Kalinauskas
Daily Brew
Canadian death row inmate Ronald Smith faced a clemency hearing in Montana, his last chance to appeal his execution

On December 10, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird sent a letter to Montana's governor asking him to grant clemency to Canadian death-row inmate Ronald Smith.

Critics of the letter — specifically Smith's lawyers — aren't sure why.

Smith has been on death row since pleading guilty to the murders of Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Madman, Jr., in Montana in 1982. He asked for the death sentence, which he was then given.

Since then, Smith has had a change of heart and has been asking for clemency.

[ Related: Foreign affairs minister sends letter asking clemency for death row Canadian ]

The Canadian Press reports that "the Harper government initially refused to back Smith's calls for clemency, saying he was convicted in a democratic country. But the Federal Court ruled Ottawa must follow a long-standing practice of lobbying on behalf of Canadians sentenced to death in other countries."

So Baird wrote a letter — almost identical to the one sent to the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole last year prior to Smith's clemency hearing — that Smith's lawyer calls "lukewarm" at best.

"The government of Canada requests that you grant clemency to Mr. Smith on humanitarian grounds," Baird wrote. "The government of Canada does not sympathize with violent crime and this letter should not be construed as reflecting a judgment on Mr. Smith's conduct."

Smith's defence team accuses Baird of simply going through the motions, as the letter didn't exactly contain any compelling arguments for clemency.

"They just wanted to, I guess, put their two cents in which didn't really say too much, did it? It's the same lukewarm letter," one of Smith's lawyers, Don Vernay, said in an interview with The Canadian Press of the odd intervention.

"I guess they just want to go on the record because they're probably like everybody else wondering what's going on here? 'We should make sure we get on the record just to appease the masses in Canada who are against the death penalty.'"

[ Related: Changes to Montana executions bring hope for Canadian ]

No one in Baird's office was available to comment when Vernay inquired into the letter.

In September, Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock declared the state's executions "unconstitutional." All future executions, including Smith's, were put on hold pending new protocol.