Canadian government willing to let a man die

For quite some time, it has been a standard policy of the Canadian government (stretching back before the current government) to intervene on behalf of any Canadian sentenced to death in a foreign land. For one person, though, the government’s actions are embarassingly minimal. How embarassing, you ask? The government had to have its hand slapped by the courts in order to write a meagre letter to the state of Montana:

DEER LODGE, Mont. – With the clock ticking down toward a decision on whether he lives or dies, the only Canadian on death row in the United States is expressing regret and sadness for the crimes he committed and the situation he finds himself in.

But Ronald Smith is also angry at the Canadian government for its “tepid” support of his clemency bid — support that came only after Federal Court forced Ottawa to act on Smith’s behalf.

“It bothered me,” Smith said in an interview with The Canadian Press at Montana State Prison — his home for the last 30 years.

Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1982. A drug-addicted drifter back then, Smith and an accomplice, both of them high on LSD and booze, marched Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man Jr. into the woods near East Glacier, Mont., and shot them in the head.

They were cold-blooded killings. Smith said he shot the men just to know how it felt to take a life and because he wanted to steal their car.

This is pretty shameful non-action by our government. No Canadian should be left twisting on death row, completely ignored by the government. Whether its Montana or Mozambique, it is the responsibility of the government to do what it reasonably can to try to save the lives of Canadian citizens.

Montana, for its part, can heed or ignore any pleas from Canada. I won’t presume to tell them how to run their justice system*, but their justice system isn’t the point. Canada’s callous indifference is.

*Who am I kidding, of course I’ll tell them how to run their justice system; I just won’t demand that they run it any particular way.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Montana’s Senate actually voted to repeal the death penalty in 2011. I lost track of it after that, but I guess it hit a roadblock.

  2. I’m strongly against the death penalty, but there’s a difference between nations that have, in general, a functioning justice system (which the US does – compared to your typical nation), and nations that would just toss a foreign citizen in jail or shoot them without any semblance of due process.

    The man admitted to first-degree murder of US citizens within the US. Is it so unreasonable for him to be subject to their justice system?

    • No, it’s not unreasonable for him to be subject to the U.S. justice system. However, the government should at least try to save him from the gallows (without having to be scolded by the Supreme Court, first).

      I wouldn’t suggest any major diplomatic or political repercussions should Montana ignore us, just that we should make sure we’re heard before they kill a Canadian.

Comments are closed.