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May 13, 2008

Interesting report of back-room capital clemency dealings with Canada

A helpful reader pointed me to this very interesting press story involving the death penalty and our neighbors to the north.  Here are a few snippets:

Montana's governor told a top Canadian consular official last year that he was willing to consider commuting the death sentence of Alberta-born killer Ronald Smith — the only Canadian on death row in the U.S. — and transfer him to a Canadian prison if Canada would guarantee he'd be kept behind bars for at least five years.

The revelation is contained in briefing notes prepared in November for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and released on Friday after an Access to Information request by Canwest News Service.  The Nicholson backgrounder is the strongest indication yet that Canada's efforts to win clemency for Smith were long-standing, resolute and progressing well until the Conservative government abruptly called off the push by its U.S.-based diplomats to fight for Smith's life.

That decision — revealed in an Oct. 31 e-mail to Canwest News Service that stated Canada would no longer be seeking clemency for Canadians facing execution in "democratic" countries — sparked an uproar in the House of Commons, prompting accusations from the three opposition parties and human rights advocates that the Conservative government was signalling a new, sympathetic stance toward capital punishment.

Some Canadian bloggers are apparently upset that weakened Canadian opposition to the death penalty led to this back-room clemency deal falling through.  I am more troubled to hear that a state governor seriously considered a back-room clemency deal along these terms for a brutal double-killer that Montanta's state prosecutors and judges and juries thought should be executed for his crimes.  (The press article notes that Smith "brutally executed two Blackfeet Indian men — Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man — during a drunken road trip to Montana in 1982.")

May 13, 2008 at 04:08 PM | Permalink

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Monday's Decisions from the Ninth Circuit: Jon Sands at Ninth Circuit Blog posted a summary of the Ninth Circuit's decisions in U.S. v. Caruto, Woods v. Carey, and Miller v. Blackletter. Defendant's rights appeared to be the theme of the... [Read More]

Tracked on May 13, 2008 8:23:16 PM

» Blog Scan from Crime and Consequences
Monday's Decisions from the Ninth Circuit: Jon Sands at Ninth Circuit Blog posted a summary of the Ninth Circuit's decisions in U.S. v. Caruto, Woods v. Carey, and Miller v. Blackletter. Defendant's rights appeared to be the theme of the... [Read More]

Tracked on May 13, 2008 11:50:42 PM

Comments

in an increasingly interconnected world, what is wrong with a little comity? while we may find it offensive in any particular case, cooperation among nations depends on it.

more broadly, i suspect MT has many interests implicated in its relationship with Canada. why shouldn't executive clemency be on the table when the two sovereigns engage in negotiations over their sometimes common, sometimes diverging interests?

Posted by: dm | May 13, 2008 4:50:06 PM

"in an increasingly interconnected world, what is wrong with a little comity?"

Black's Law Dictionary: "Courtesy among political entities ... involving esp. mutual recognition of legislative, executive, and judicial acts."

Other countries' respect for our decision to retain the death penalty, which is our decision to make, would indeed be welcome.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 13, 2008 8:22:12 PM

This little vignette, once again, shows the distorting gravitational pull of the death penalty. Whether one is opposed to the death penalty or not, why on earth would someone really care enough to make a stink about the execution of a vicious criminal? Even if I were a passionate opponent of the death penalty, if I were a consular official, I wouldn't waste my time trying to help a murderer. Moreoever, I would be cognizant of the fact that other people, namely the victims' families, didn't ask to have their loved ones murdered by someone with foreign friends who will exert pressure to have the murderer treated leniently.

But hey, stopping the execution of a vicious killer is a categorical imperative, overriding all other considerations. Some Canadian idiot apparently was willing to import a murderer into Canadian society (there is no way Canada would have kept the guy locked up forever) with the attendant risk to Canadian citizens just to avoid him getting the "big jab". Moral preening at its finest. Funny, though, even sometimes common sense has a way of overcoming the most refined sensibilities--when Charles Ng (an absolutely vicious criminal and a man who deserves to have the pentathol not work) fled to Canada, the Canadians were presented with the option of letting him loose in Canada or returning him to the US to face death. Guess which option those oh-so-moral Canadians chose?

Posted by: federalist | May 14, 2008 7:57:33 AM

dm:

Hypothetical: If the situation were reversed, with Ronalad Smith being held in the US on non-capital charges, and Canada seeking his return to face the death penalty, would you still be of the view that, "in an increasingly interconnected world, what is wrong with a little comity? [W]hile we may find it offensive in any particular case, cooperation among nations depends on it."

Or is cooperation among nations important only when it works in the convict's favor?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 14, 2008 7:57:59 AM

Doug wrote: "Some Canadian bloggers are apparently upset that weakened Canadian opposition to the death penalty led to this back-room clemency deal falling through. I am more troubled to hear that a state governor seriously considered a back-room clemency deal along these terms for a brutal double-killer that Montanta's state prosecutors and judges and juries thought should be executed for his crimes."

Huh? It troubles you that the State of Montana, acting through its elected Governor, would do as it sees fit with a person who committed a crime in Montana? The clemency deal isn't really "back-room," seeing as how, if it were to come to pass, the Governor would obviously have to publicly state its terms. (He couldn't just send a death row inmate to a Canadian prison without explaining why.)

Doug continued: "(The press article notes that Smith "brutally executed two Blackfeet Indian men — Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man — during a drunken road trip to Montana in 1982.")"

I would suggest that you, as an academic, not directly appropriate media descriptions of crimes. Only by reading the transcript of the court proceeding will you learn whether the offense was particularly "brutal." If you have not read it, you really ought to refrain from such sensationalism.

Kent wrote: "Other countries' respect for our decision to retain the death penalty, which is our decision to make, would indeed be welcome."

And this would be in reciprocity for the U.S.'s world renowned restraint in interfering in other countries' domestic affairs? Regardless, it should be considered a peremptory norm of international law that governments are not permitted to methodically kill their own citizens. As such, the U.S. has no right to make this decision at all.

federalist wrote: "Whether one is opposed to the death penalty or not, why on earth would someone really care enough to make a stink about the execution of a vicious criminal?"

Because persons sentenced to death do not, in the real world, fit your pejorative stereotype. They are typically people with untreated mental illnesses (thanks to yours, Bill's, and Kent's support for abusive and indefensible policies) who, as a result, did a terrible thing they themselves acknowledge to be a horrible mistake. The proper question to ask is why anybody in his right mind would care about anything any of you have to say.

federalist wrote: "Even if I were a passionate opponent of the death penalty, if I were a consular official, I wouldn't waste my time trying to help a murderer. Moreoever, I would be cognizant of the fact that other people, namely the victims' families, didn't ask to have their loved ones murdered by someone with foreign friends who will exert pressure to have the murderer treated leniently."

And the person who committed murder did not ask to be deprived of mental health care and basic human sustenance by the likes of you, Bill, and Kent. Nor did the family of the victim ask to have their loved one murdered by a person so deprived by you. Frankly, it would be more effective as a crime reduction policy to execute people like you than it would the people your politics create. This is for the simple reason that, even as you execute individual mentally ill people, the survival of your anti-human policies continually creates more such mentally ill people. If you ever wondered why the death penalty as practiced does not actually reduce crime, there you have it, in a nut shell. Of course, your objective is not to reduce crime at all, but to profit economically from your politics.

Posted by: DK | May 17, 2008 11:43:51 AM

DK, when you wake up in the morning and go outside, is the sky blue?

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