Monday, April 16, 2012

Death penalty: Canada needs to be consistent

It is good to see this news of the Canadian government pleading for clemency for a Canadian in Iran facing execution:
"Canada is gravely concerned by indications that the execution of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall may be carried out imminently," Baird said in a joint statement Sunday with Diane Ablonczy, the junior minister for foreign affairs.

Baird called on the Iranian government to grant clemency to Ghassemi-Shall on compassionate and humanitarian grounds and to respect its international human rights obligations.
The move is being criticized, however, for coming at a late date in Hamid Ghassemi-Shall's detention and in the face of imminent execution (see CTV report here). Still, it is good to see.

No such plea, however, with another high profile case that has been in the news, where Canadian Ronald Smith is facing the death penalty in Montana. Smith's clemency hearing is on May 2nd and the Harper government has signalled that they won't speak during the hearing despite having the opportunity to do so. The government has sent a tick the box form of letter and had to be ordered to do so. There is no compelling plea from our government given their view of the facts of the case and the fact that it is the U.S. in which Smith was convicted. The state of Montana is even thinking of doing away with the death penalty yet that doesn't move our government.

The two cases highlight how wrong this government has it when it comes to the death penalty and Canadian citizens who face it abroad. Our government should be actively pursuing clemency for Canadian citizens abroad whenever required, consistently, and wherever Canadian citizens are. Does the Harper government think that other nations don't notice our inconsistent application of our clemency policy?

Here is a letter sent to Montana's Governor that speaks to Canada's traditional position on the death penalty abroad. Canada's moral authority on the death penalty, when speaking to Iran, would be so much improved if, as a matter of principle, we opposed it thoroughly in all cases on the international level.