Saturday, December 27, 2008

Death penalty inconsistency

The Harper government appears to be scrambling now to intervene on behalf of the Kohail brothers who are facing execution in Saudi Arabia, one brother thought to be subject to execution by February.
The family of a Quebec man sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia said they are disappointed so far with efforts by the Canadian government to intervene in their case.
Recall that Stockwell Day had been involved in intervening with this case back in March, clearly to no avail. Now Obhrai is on the case:
Canadian Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai met with the Saudi minister of justice and other senior Saudi officials last week during a trip to the Middle Eastern country.
A diplomatic note has also been sent by our embassy to the Saudi government, one of the highest means of intervention. Here's Obhrai on CBC yesterday. It seems notable that the Harper government has decided to give a higher profile to this case and their efforts at the moment. But note that Obhrai is just the Parliamentary Secretary. Why Foreign Affairs Minister Cannon was not dispatched, if we were going to send someone to meet with the Saudi minister of justice and other officials there, is not clear.

One has to further wonder about the inconsistency the Harper government has shown to the world on its death penalty stance and how this affects their credibility in the eyes of foreign governments when they make efforts such as they are presently making in the Kohail case. The Canadian government's position on the death penalty was recently summed up this way in oral arguments in a federal court case:
"Canada will not intervene in clemency applications by a Canadian facing a capital sentence in a democratic country that honours the rule of law."
So, they've effectively taken the position that it's OK to execute some Canadians abroad but not others, depending on the legal processes afforded to the Canadians in trouble. I wrote in March what this meant: "The Canadian facing execution in Montana is not worthy of the government's help. Yet the Canadian facing execution in Saudi Arabia is. It's nonsensical inconsistent policy from our government, a departure from decades of consistent opposition to the executions of Canadians abroad, no matter where they may be and no matter the offence for which they've been convicted. When the government starts picking and choosing which Canadians will get its help, we're in trouble. "

The Conservative positioning on the death penalty for Canadians abroad can't be helping matters much at all at the moment. We look inconsistent and by our very act of now seeking to intervene, we're saying to the Saudis that they fall into the class of countries that Canada deems intervention worthy. That their system of justice is not reputable. That may very well be, but you have to wonder about how it impacts the case at hand.

Hopefully, the intervention in Saudi Arabia will produce results. Having young Canadians beheaded in Saudi Arabia would be tragic.