Lazy or just stupid, Part IV

Once again our unmotivated media has failed us.

The state of Montana would like to execute one Ronald Allen Smith, formerly of Red Deer, Alberta, for the 1982 kidnapping and murder of Thomas Running Rabbit and Harvey Mad Man.  In 2007, the Tory minority government bailed out of Smith’s clemency appeal and said they would no longer pursue it, however Mr. Justice Robert Barnes of the Federal Court has now ordered the federal government to resume said effort.  Oh happy day.

“The decision by the government of Canada to withdraw support for Mr. Smith was made in breach of the duty of fairness, is unlawful and is set aside,” wrote Mr. Barnes.

“I am ordering the government to continue to apply the former policy of supporting clemency on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty in any foreign state.”

— Janice Tibbets. “Feds told to seek clemency for Canadian on death row“, National Post, March 4th, 2009.

I have read articles about this in the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Canadian Press, Reuters,, and so on, and of these outlets only CP has bothered to report a relevant little morsel.

Montana’s state senate voted on February 17th of this year to abolish capital punishment. Unless Montana has plans to execute Mr. Smith within this calendar month, it is highly likely that the remaining votes will occur and the state will do away with Mr. Smith’s punishment before he has a chance to receive it.  He has, after all, been awaiting execution since 1983.

In other words, this media foofarah is mostly sound and fury signifying nothing.  Mr. Smith is not in imminent danger of execution.  His sentence will evaporate out from underneath him before it ever comes to pass.

Another thing that bugs me is the lack of relevant background information in these stories.  Mr. Justice Barnes notes that the prior policy has been changed, and did not think it fair.  The unasked question is, how long has that policy been actively pursued by Her Majesty’s Canadian Government?  Since capital punishment in Canada was abolished in 1976?  Since the Chrétien government was elected in 1993?  Having judges freeze Cabinet policy by judicial fiat would be slightly more comprehensible if every Canadian government, regardless of ideology, has pursued this tack since 1976.  It would be a little different if this was an innovation only observed by say, Liberal governments.

But alas, our hardworking media cannot be bothered to look into these details.  That might add too much clarity to the discussion, and sell fewer papers.

Also unasked are questions about how Canada responds to appeals for favourable treatment.  Obviously we don’t execute anyone, but how has our political and judicial apparatus historically reacted when foreign governments have attempted to attain preferential treatment—which may be at odds with the requirements of Canadian jurisprudence—for their own incarcerated citizens?  Do we generally give these foreign nations what they ask for, or tell them to get stuffed?

Frankly I don’t imagine there is a country extant in the world today that likes foreign meddlers telling it how to manage its own judicial system.

How much meddling is warranted?  What has the success rate been like for our own appeals, and for those made to us on behalf of foreign nationals?

And why can’t our media hacks trouble themselves to find out these kinds of details when it comes to policy issues?

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